Michael Delaney doesn't deny stabbing a neighbor six times during a bizarre confrontation in June 2009 -- but the slaying wasn't premeditated, the defense insisted as his murder trial opened Wednesday.
"Michael believed he was being attacked -- and he believed he had to defend himself," DuPage County Assistant Public Defender Brian Jacobs told jurors, adding there's "no doubt" Delaney was the killer.
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Prosecutors, meanwhile, alleged there's ample evidence to prove the 49-year-old Wheaton man was bent on murder when he repeatedly plunged a 5-inch steak knife into his unarmed neighbor, Micheal Scalzo.
The slaying happened just days after Delaney's girlfriend left him and moved in with a neighbor in their apartment building on the 700 block of Crescent Street in Wheaton. The breakup was amicable at first, but authorities said Delaney became increasingly hostile, stalking and threatening to kill the woman and her new boyfriend.
The night Scalzo died, the 40-year-old mechanic had given refuge to the ex-girlfriend in a garage where he and several friends were drinking beer and working on a motorcycle. After Delaney walked by and made repeated death threats, authorities said, Scalzo approached him in a parking lot between their apartment buildings and was fatally wounded.
Delaney had been carrying around a knife for hours, "just waiting to use it," according to prosecutors. And, earlier in the day, the words "will kill" were found carved into the door where his ex-girlfriend had been staying. There also were blood smears in the hallway.
"This (killing) wasn't an accident," Assistant State's Attorney Louisa Nuckolls said in opening statements. "He wanted to make someone pay."
The attorneys gave varying accounts of how the confrontation unfolded.
Jacobs said Delaney -- dressed in a T-shirt, flip-flops and boxer shorts -- was outside smoking a cigarette when Scalzo stormed across the parking lot and began beating him. He said Delaney had a steak knife on him and stabbed the victim in self-defense, then immediately ran off "because he was scared."
"There's no premeditation," Jacobs said. "Michael Delaney has no animosity whatsoever toward Micheal Scalzo."
But Nuckolls contended Scalzo had extended a hand and tried to calm Delaney down by talking to him. That's when she said Delaney "sucker punched" him, prompting a quick exchange of blows before the defendant yanked Scalzo's shirt over his head and stabbed him in the torso. Nine people witnessed some or all of the altercation, she said.
Wheaton police arrived within minutes and nabbed Delaney as he fled the scene. They found Scalzo's friends tending to him in the garage, where he and another man identified Delaney as the perpetrator.
Scalzo frantically asked for his mother, telling officers, "I'm going to die," a sergeant testified. Hours later, he took his last breath.
Nuckolls described Scalzo as a hard worker who "didn't have any problems with people in the apartment complex or neighborhood." The victim's mother, Janet Scalzo of Wheaton, testified he was a "mama's boy" who talked with her every day and loved helping other people.
"He always left with, 'You are my sunshine, mom. You are my best friend," she said, fighting back tears.
Jacobs told jurors they would hear from Delaney himself, as his trial in Judge Daniel Guerin's courtroom continues through the week. If convicted of first-degree murder, the defendant would face 20 to 60 years in prison, or up to natural life if the jury finds the killing was "cold and calculated."