Benjamin Cayea leaves court Monday afternoon.

Clarification at 3 p.m.: During cross examination, details about this case have become more clear and two changes have been made to more accurately reflect the record:

1) Cayea said he choked Jones near a wall. She was not pressed against the wall. 

2) Cayea testified that they were near a sink, toilet and windowsill when he choked her but he is unsure whether she hit her head as she fell. 

ITHACA, N.Y. — A man accused of murdering his girlfriend in Cayuga Heights last year said the confession he gave to police about why he strangled the Cornell student was a lie.

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Benjamin Cayea — who is charged with second-degree murder after he confessed to strangling Shannon Jones on Thanksgiving — took the stand in his defense Tuesday morning.

In hours-long testimony, he described a relationship with Jones in which her “disassociative” behavior — confirmed by Jones’ therapist Monday — often led to blow up arguments and physical abuse from Jones.

Related: Forensic pathologist: Cornell student’s death was homicide

But despite the lows in the relationship, he said the two were planning on spending the rest of their lives together.

“Shannon is…was a very bubbly, affectionate, sweet person on one hand, and at other times she was very erratic and sometimes angry. But, for the most part, she was sweet,” he said, crying on the witness stand. “I loved her very much.”

He said the two discussed getting married, having children and where they wanted to live their lives together when she graduated.

Benjamin Cayea: “Baby, are you okay?”

On Thanksgiving Day, Cayea testified that he and Jones were in the bathroom with the light off. He held her by her neck and pressed his hand over her mouth and nose.

“She started calling me a bitch and (expletive) and that I couldn’t do it (choke her) hard enough,” Cayea said. “She wanted me to do it harder and harder.

So he said he choked her until he felt her body start to buckle.

He said he let go of her and she tumbled to the ground.

“Baby, are you okay?” he asked.

When he leaned over her, she wasn’t moving and had no pulse. He dragged her out of the bathroom and saw that her lips were blue. He said he checked he pulse again and knew she was dead.

During his testimony, Cayea began crying — which is what he said he did for an undetermined amount of time while holding Jones’ body close and apologizing to her over and over again.

Earlier in the day, he and Jones planned to attend several parties together, but Jones woke up sick.

They argued around 10 a.m. about a small incident, but he said the disagreement was quickly glossed over and Jones asked him to bring her back some food from a Thanksgiving lunch he was going to with friends.

He said he returned to the apartment from the lunch around 2:30 p.m., fed her some of the dinner he brought her back, watched videos with her online and went to a store to buy her tissues with lotion in them as she requested.

When he got back to the apartment, he said they began watching videos again and he noticed the food he’d brought Jones untouched.

“I reached into the container of food and I took out a piece of turkey and took a bite of it,” he said. “Shannon got extremely upset that I had took turkey.”

He said Jones began yelling at him and hitting him and they paced through the apartment arguing.

The solution to their argument, he testified, was one they’d come to before: sex.

He said he and Jones regularly practiced BDSM — a kind of sex that involves bondage or submissive and dominant role play. Choking was part of an activity they partook in for sexual gratification, he said.

When they argued, he said, they often resolved their issues through sex.

A Facebook conversation the two engaged in on Oct. 22 was submitted into evidence to show the state of mind of Jones and Cayea in the weeks leading up to her death.

In the messaged conversation, Jones sent Cayea a meme depicting a person being choked. A photo of their bedroom was also shown and a black and red leather whip could be seen in the room.

He said it belonged to Jones and that the two used it during sex.

In a subsequent police interview in which he confessed to the crime, Cayea said he lied when he said he choked Jones out of anger because he didn’t want people to know the details of their sex life.

“I didn’t care about myself and I didn’t care what happened to me,” Cayea said as he began to be cross examined Monday afternoon. “I also didn’t want him (a police investigator) or anyone else to know what she and I were engaging in.”


Round-up of previous coverage

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Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.