No camera captured the fight that took the life of Fatima Barrie in December 2011.
But as the murder trial for the young woman accused in her death began Tuesday, Travis County prosecutors said there are some crucial consistencies in the testimony from witnesses who watched the melee that rainy night.
A suspect later identified as Kaitlyn Ritcherson, they said, was seen raising a knife in one of her hands as a crowd of people spilled onto the streets near the entrance of a downtown club. She was wearing a wig with long, dark hair, a red jacket and black pants, and in the investigation that followed, forensic analysts found her clothes had the blood of the victim, Assistant District Attorney Meg McGee said in opening statements.
McGee said Ritcherson stabbed Barrie in the chest in those early hours of Dec. 4, 2011, outside of Republic Live, at 301 W. Fifth St. Doctors did everything they could, the prosecutor said, but days later, days before Christmas, the Huston-Tillotson University student, a track star and a junior biology major, died of her injuries.
“Her mother got a call that no parent ever wants to receive,” McGee said.
Ritcherson, who has said she is innocent, initially faced a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for the incident. But the offense was upgraded to first-degree murder, and she is facing five to 99 years in prison.
Her trial is expected to run about three weeks.
In opening statements Tuesday, defense attorney Charlie Baird was briefly interrupted by a heated objection from prosecutors, who stopped him as he said Ritcherson had been on prescription medication after the death of her father when she was an adolescent.
Baird said Ritcherson, who was a teenager at the time of her arrest, was named a suspect as a result of a shoddy and unprofessional police investigation. He described a dark and chaotic scene outside of the nightclub and said Barrie had first hit Ritcherson with a cellphone on her forehead so hard that one witness told him it sounded like a train.
Barrie then took off her shoes and rushed at Ritcherson, who stood frightened and shaking with a knife in her hand that she had used earlier that night to cut her hair extensions, Baird said. Their friends dove into the brawl until someone broke it up, and Barrie walked away, the attorney said.
“No one has any idea that anyone has been hurt,” he said. Police officers rushed to judgment and named Ritcherson a suspect, taking detailed reports only from those witnesses who corroborated their theory, Baird said.
“They put on those blinders, and it never, ever changes,” he said.
Austin police officers testified Tuesday that they responded to a call of a stabbing about 2:30 a.m., as a crowd of people poured out of the club along West Fifth and Lavaca streets. Video dash cam from their patrol cars showed officers yelling and attempting to question witnesses outside of Republic Live.
In affidavits, investigators said that Ritcherson, now 21, did not know Barrie and that it was unclear what prompted the attack.
Jamie Hopkins, who graduated from Huston-Tillotson, said she had been hanging out on the street with Barrie when two women approached them, attempting to start a dispute.
She and Barrie turned to leave but then Hopkins felt someone grab her hair, Hopkins said, demonstrating the events that night with McGee before jurors. Hopkins said that her boyfriend pulled her away and that she saw Ritcherson with a knife in her hand.
After her boyfriend pulled Barrie away, the three walked toward their car, but Barrie took only a few steps before she stumbled and fell to the ground bleeding, Hopkins remembered, shedding tears.
Barrie was taken to University Medical Center Brackenridge, where a steady stream of friends and family members visited and remembered her as an outgoing, headstrong and hardworking young runner. She died at age 21.
At the time, Ritcherson told officers that she did not have a knife and that an unknown woman had hit her on the head and stabbed her in the leg, according to court records. She was treated at Seton Southwest Hospital for an injury to her right leg and released.
Baird has said Ritcherson had hoped to attend college after graduating from Premier High School, a charter school in South Austin that specializes in helping at-risk students. Ritcherson, an Austin native, has two brothers and a widowed mother.
On Tuesday, more than a dozen friends and family members from both sides of the case gathered outside the courtroom. A handful embraced in a prayer circle, asking for peace and encouragement.
“There are two families here, God,” one said.