AUBURN | Ryan Brahney is not denying that he threw a cinder block chunk through the back porch window of Bridget Bell's Auburn apartment last fall, collecting shards of broken glass on his clothing as he slipped into her home.
He is not contradicting that he then went up the stairs to Bell's bedroom and woke the mother of his child from sleep, dragging the struggling 29-year-old woman down the staircase into the living room.
And Brahney is not disputing that he then took a butcher knife and stabbed Bell 38 times — wounding her head, neck, face, arms, hands, chest and back — before finally killing her, leaving the large weapon buried deep in her breathless chest.
But what Brahney is denying is that he intended to kill Bell — that he was even in a clear enough state of mind around 1 a.m. on Nov. 21, 2011 to realize the irrevocable, lamentable consequences of his actions.
Along with waiving his right to a trial by jury Monday morning, Brahney affirmed that his DNA, in the form of blood, was present in Bell's home, that he had broken into her Olympia Terrace residence and caused her death.
But the 40-year-old defendant claimed he was not guilty by reason of extreme emotional distress, arguing he believed he was protecting his son.
At 1 p.m., the prosecution and the defense each gave their opening statements in Cayuga County Court, laying out their strategies for Brahney's trial.
District Attorney Jon Budelmann led off his opening statement by describing the narrative of Bell's final moments and her violent death.
He explained that some of Bell's nearly 40 stab wounds — 11 to her head, neck and face, 11 to her arms and hands, nine to her chest and seven to her back — were defensive. And Budelmann added that not all of the blood pooled on the floor was Bell's, explaining that Brahney cut his hands during the attack.
"The evidence will show that Bridget Bell suffered a horrific death," Budelmann said.
Through a slew of witnesses and many pieces of evidence, Budelmann told the court the people would prove Brahney hated and intended to murder his ex-girlfriend.
The DA said Brahney would allege Bell was a crack cocaine addict who brought drug dealers and drugs around Finn, the former couple's 3-year-old son — arguing he believed his actions would protect his child.
"The defendant is asking you to feel sorry for him," Budelmann said. "He wants you to believe he's the real victim."
Despite Brahney's allegations, Budelmann said no cocaine was found in Bell's system or in her home.
"All we have is this defendant's word," he said.
Budelmann said he would show Brahney's contentions had no evidence, explaining he was addressing the allegations to protect Bell from "additional abuse at the victim's hands."
In the defense's opening statement, Simon Moody, Brahney's attorney, told the court Bell's death was a tragedy for both families and, in particular, Finn.
"This is a tragic case," he said. "There's no question about it."
Acknowledging that his client was "guilty of a number of things," Moody reaffirmed that the defense had admitted Brahney caused Bell's death.
But Brahney did not intend to kill Bell, Moody said. He had simply wanted to protect his son.
"What happened to him on that fateful morning that prompted this frenzied attack?" Moody asked. "The question here, when looking at what happened, is what on earth went through his mind?"
Through testimony from a psychiatrist — who studied Brahney's life from his abusive childhood through his crime-filled adulthood — Moody said the evidence would prove Brahney suffered from extreme emotional distress on the morning in question.
During the former couple's on-and-off relationship, Moody said his client often expressed frustration at how little Bell let him see Finn. When he looked through Bell's window the night before her death and saw her hanging out with a convicted drug dealer in her living room, Moody said Brahney snapped.
"His burning compulsion here was to protect his son," he said. "This is a case where his anger simply overwhelmed him, and he acted in a frenzy."
Although he said his client's actions could "under no moral compass" be considered justified, Moody said a case of extreme emotional distress required the court to examine Brahney's thought process.
"We're not looking at his actions from our perspective," Moody said, "But from looking through his eyes."
Brahney, previously convicted of breaking every bone in a man's face, is facing two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree burglary, two counts of first-degree criminal contempt and one count of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, all felonies.
If convicted, Brahney faces up to 25 years to life in prison. If Leone rules the defendant suffered from extreme emotional distress and finds Brahney guilty of first-degree manslaughter, a felony, the defendant faces 23 years to life in prison.
His bench trial is set to resume at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday.