ITHACA, N.Y. — A man stabbed on Ithaca’s Stewart Avenue bridge more than a year ago had a six-inch gash cross his leg about two inches deep, a fact nobody disputes. But during opening statements Tuesday afternoon, attorneys presented two different versions of how that wound ended up on the man’s thigh.
Khaliq Gale, 22, is accused of stabbing Zachary Pealo in the leg during an alleged drug deal gone wrong on Sept. 27, 2016. He was indicted on first-degree assault, second-degree assault and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon in April. Gale has maintained his innocence.
According to court documents, Pealo was trying to sell Gale four pounds of marijuana when he snatched the box of drugs and ran. Pealo told police that he chased Gale and caught up to him on the Stewart Avenue bridge. After a brief run-in, Pealo said he felt a pain in his thigh, fell to his knees, and felt blood on his leg when he reached down. He collapsed on the bridge.
According to video played in court from Ithaca Police Officer Caprice VanAuken’s body camera, Pealo writhed in pain on the bridge as passerby provided first aid to him. He described his alleged attacker to the officer and police searched for Gale.
Ithaca police would later release a photo of Gale to the public while they searched for him for nearly two weeks. Gale eventually voluntarily turned himself into police.
Defense attorney Seth Peacock said during opening statements Tuesday, “This is a case about lies.”
He said Pealo falsely told Gale that he would sell him marijuana and, upon arrival, tried to steal Gale’s money.
Peacock said the defense does not contest that Pealo has an injury to his leg.
“What we do contest and what the evidence will show is that Khaliq Gale did not cause this injury and did not have a weapon to cause this injury,” Peacock said. “After all the evidence is presented to you…you’ll be convinced that Mr. Pealo lied and that the only reason he has an injury to his leg is because he was the one handling the knife. He injured his own leg.”
Peacock said Pealo was having financial difficulties at the time of the incident and couldn’t pay his bills. Peacock says Pealo set up a false drug deal, took Gale’s money, and tried to walk away from him without giving him a box of marijuana as they agreed upon.
When Gale protested and started following him, Gale allegedly saw the box of marijuana in a Jeep Pealo was driving.
The rest of the incident is caught on surveillance cameras.
Peacock said the cameras show that Khaliq grabbed the box and was holding it with both hands at the time he allegedly stabbed Pealo.
“You’ll see Khaliq running away with the box and then you’ll see Zachary Pealo come on the right side…and then he bangs into him (Gale) for a brief moment. At that point Khaliq barely breaks stride and you’ll see it in the videotape,” Peacock said.
In addition to the video, Peacock said that Pealo never says he saw Gale with a knife.
“At no point in the whole incident…was there any knife held my Khaliq Gale,” Peacock said.
District Attorney Matt Van Houten, however, presented a different version of events for the jury to consider, saying that Gale carried the weapon with him with the intent of using it while he stole the drugs.
Van Houten said, “To put it more plainly, Khaliq Gale stabbed Zachary Pealo. He stabbed him in the left thigh with a sharp instrument and caused him to suffer serious physical injury that continues to have consequences and significant effects on Zachary’s life to this day.”
He said that after the stabbing, Pealo was taken to Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pennsylvania and underwent surgery to repair the “gaping wound.”
Van Houten said, “My intention is to give you the straight story, I’m not going to sugar coat this or gloss any of the details.”
For instance, Van Houten said Pealo initially lied to police, telling them that he encountered Gale and another man trying to steal the stereo from his Jeep.
But Van Houten says Pealo later “comes clean” with officers, telling them about the drugs and details about how much it weighed and how much it was worth.
“None of that changes the fact that Zachary Pealo was stabbed in the leg,” Van Houten said. “That’s what this case is about.”
The trial continued Wednesday morning at the Tompkins County Courthouse.