ITHACA, N.Y. – As closing statements concluded for the trial of a man accused of stabbing a person on the Stewart Avenue bridge last year, the jury was left with one question: who stabbed Zachary Pealo?
On September 27, 2016, Khaliq Gale, 22, was accused of stabbing Pealo following a drug deal gone wrong. In April, Gale was indicted on first-degree assault, second-degree assault and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
Despite the charges, Gale maintains that he is not guilty of stabbing the man – after taking the stand in Tompkins County Court on Thursday afternoon, he said he had no idea how Pealo sustained a stab wound to the leg, a gash which spread nearly six inches across his left thigh and ran two inches deep.
According to court records, Gale was attempting to buy four pounds of marijuana from Pealo on the night of the incident. Documents state that Gale allegedly took the box filled with marijuana and ran when Pealo eventually caught up to him on the bridge. Security camera footage of the bridge shows a brief interaction with Gale and Pealo, after which Pealo falls to the ground.
The facts of the event, however, were disputed between District Attorney Matthew Van Houten and defense attorney Seth Peacock. The weapon was never found, nor were there any witnesses who ever saw the weapon, limiting the evidence of the event.
During opening statements, Peacock said Pealo set up a fake drug deal in order to deal with financial difficulties he was dealing with at the time. Peacock said that following the money exchange, Pealo walked away without giving Gale the marijuana. Following this, the defense argued that Gale, upset about not getting what he paid for, followed Pealo back to his car where he saw the box of marijuana in Pealo’s Jeep – which he then took and ran away with.
Surveillance footage shows Gale running down the bridge with the box, approximately the size of a microwave, but what happens next is unknown.
Gale testified that Pealo ‘ambushed’ him, and he ran to get away from him. Peacock argues that Pealo was the aggressor, in this case, pursuing Gale to get the box back.
“You’ll see in the video that Pealo is on the other side of the street carrying nothing – he certainly had the opportunity to pull out a knife,” Peacock said. “That makes more sense than Khaliq having a knife hidden by the box that no one ever sees. Pealo was confident because he knew he had the knife.”
Peacock argued that Pealo’s injury landed at the same level his hand fell on his leg. Since it was a horizontal wound, he said, it was consistent that Pealo possibly cut himself in the pursuit.
Both Van Houten and Peacock addressed that Pealo initially lied to police, telling them that the fight ensued over the attempted robbery of a stereo in his car.
“He tried to say he lied because he was involved in a marijuana sale, but the evidence shows he was trying to steal money from Khaliq – his story doesn’t make sense,” Peacock said. “Even today he comes in without a credible story. What’s the reason for his misleading testimony today, a year later? The reason is because he’s just a liar.”
Van Houten argued that Pealo lied because he was involved in a drug deal, afraid of admitting that fact to police.
“Mr. Peacock says Pealo is a liar and we know that to be true,” Van Houten said. “You can understand why someone might lie to police if you’re facing charges from selling that much marijuana to somebody – but don’t be distracted in this case… it’s not about a drug deal, it’s about a stabbing.”
Van Houten said the only reasonable explanation was that Gale stabbed Pealo intentionally during their brief interaction on the bridge.
“Gale ran away not because he was scared of Pealo, but because he knew that this was a high traffic area that he needed to get out of,” Van Houten argued.
Looking back at the footage, Van Houten pointed out that Pealo couldn’t have stabbed himself because his hands were reaching out toward the box in Gale’s hands at the moment he was allegedly stabbed. In addition to that, one witness who applied first aid to Pealo on the bridge after the injury testified to seeing ‘a glint of metal’ on Gale.
“In proving our case, we only need to prove the elements…all the elements of the drug deal and who is a liar and who is a thief has nothing to do with it,” Van Houten said. “All we need to know is how Khaliq Gale caused this injury to Pealo. It wasn’t something that he caused upon himself or something that the bridge did – we have to prove the defendant did this intentionally.”
Following the final statements, Judge John C. Rowley continued into jury instruction. Deliberation will continue into Friday.