Defendant claims he was fighting for life

by Wes Mayer

The trial of Milo Rachel, the Vietnam War veteran accused of slaying another man with a knife in April 2013, continued Thursday and both sides completed presenting their evidence.

Rachel, 64, was indicted on charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a knife during the commission of a crime. On April 1, 2013, Rachel was arrested for the slaying of Charles Skeen, 57, who died from an eight-inch stab wound which severed his abdominal aorta. Skeen was found dead lying on the front porch of Rachel’s home on Fairmount Drive in Newnan.

Public Defender Charles Cauble, Rachel’s attorney, is attempting to prove Rachel acted in self-defense when he fatally stabbed Skeen – Cauble is also arguing that Skeen had a reputation of being aggressive and a bully. The state, led by Coweta County Assistant District Attorney Robert Mooradian, is arguing Rachel knowingly and maliciously slew Skeen because he would not leave his home. Coweta Superior Court Judge Emory Palmer is presiding over the case.

The trial began with jury selection on Monday, and Mooradian began calling witnesses after the opening statements on Tuesday. On Thursday, the trial continued with Cauble cross-examining Sgt. Greg Vansant with the Newnan Police Department, the lead investigator of the case.

Cauble questioned Vansant about details of the investigation – this was Vansant’s first homicide case where he was the lead investigator. Cauble asked Vansant about the steps of the investigation chronologically, such as how paramedics who found Skeen did not realize Skeen had been stabbed until they were in transit to the hospital, and where the potential murder weapon, an eight-inch hunting knife, was found by police inside Rachel’s home.

Cauble also questioned Vansant about details of the interviews between him and Rachel, especially how Rachel said he had to slide out from underneath Skeen, indicating Skeen may have been the aggressor. Cauble asked Vansant about what information he could determine about Skeen as well, including the phone numbers found on Skeen’s cell phone – one of these numbers belonged to a drug dealer.

After this, the state rested, and Cauble called his first witness, Rachel, to testify in his own defense.

Cauble asked Rachel about his history in Newnan, how Rachel is a disabled veteran diagnosed and treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and how long he knew Skeen, which was around 50 years. Rachel also talked about Skeen’s reputation in the neighborhood of being violent and a fighter.

Rachel recounted a few stories of Skeen’s violent behavior, including one time when Skeen attacked another man with a knife, an incident Skeen was arrested for and left the victim with scars on his face. Rachel also told the jury about a time when he witnessed Skeen strike a man who was sitting in a wheelchair, knocking the man onto the ground, just because the man bumped into Skeen.

When Cauble began questioning Rachel about the events of April 1, 2013, Rachel told the jury how he was hit by Skeen, who then got on top of him and began pounding him and put his hands on Rachel’s throat, choking him. It was because of this, Rachel said, that he grabbed the knife that was lying on the floor and stabbed Skeen.

Rachel said he was afraid Skeen was going to kill him, and he wished instead he could have grabbed a can of mace, but the knife was his only option. Rachel said he was only trying to save his life.

After this, Rachel said Skeen got off him and sat on the couch, and it did not appear too serious. Rachel then told Skeen to leave and pulled him by the arm onto his front porch, and Skeen seemed to be walking on his own.

Rachel then left his home, but Skeen died on his porch.

Mooradian cross-examined Rachel and asked him how he was able to tell the entire story in the courtroom, but lied about the fight with Skeen during both his interviews with Vansant and Newnan Deputy Police Chief Rodney Riggs. Rachel said he lied to the investigators because he did not trust them with the truth, and he was scared and confused.

Mooradian also asked Rachel how during the interviews, investigators brought up the topic of self-defense numerous times, but Rachel was never able to admit to it. Rachel brought up excuses such as blacking out, but this only allowed him to create blanks in his story, blanks he only filled in during the trial on Thursday, Mooradian said.

Mooradian asked him why if he lied in the first interview and lied in the second interview, why the jury should trust him now.

Cauble continued by calling other character witnesses to describe how they felt about Rachel and Skeen. Each witness described Rachel as a humble and peaceful person, and Skeen as aggressive, a fighter and a bully. Mooradian cross-examined a few of these witnesses by asking them if they had any knowledge of the argument between Skeen and Rachel on April 1, 2013 – none of them had any direct knowledge of the fight. After this, the defense rested.

On Friday, the trial will resume with Mooradian’s and Cauble’s closing arguments, and it is planned for the jury to go into deliberation before noon.



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