Jurors in the trial of a former Marine charged with murder heard Tuesday from a witness to the fatal stabbing near the Marine Barracks in Southeast DC.
That witness, Nishith Pandya, had been friends with Philip Bushong for three years when Bushong was killed after a night of bar hopping.
Pandya testified that he and Bushong were with a group of friends drinking at Molly Malone’s some time after 2:00 a.m. when Bushong and two other Marines were asked to leave the bar after being “loud and boisterous.”
Pandya said that he accompanied Bushong outside and that the two talked about Bushong’s plans following his retirement from the Marines, which was scheduled to happen in five days.
As the two were talking a man approached them kicking a restaurant sign and smoking a cigarette. Pandya identified that man in court as Michael Poth, 21, the defendant in the case.
Testifying Tuesday, Pandya said Poth yelled a homophobic slur out toward him and Bushong. Bushong responded, yelling back, ‘What the f– did you just say?’ or, ‘shut the f– up,’” Pandya said.
Video footage shown in court captures Poth soon after the exchange of words blowing cigarette smoke near Bushong’s face while walking away and out of the camera’s view. Pandya testified that Bushong then walked after Poth to confront him; Pandya followed close behind.
Pandya testified that Poth then called Bushong a “boot,” a military slang term for an inexperienced soldier just out of boot camp.
“Who are you calling a boot?” Bushong responded, according to Pandya.
Bushong then began yelling out at Poth his military accomplishments and the countries he had been deployed to, Pandya said.
Pandya testified that as he and Bushong followed Poth, Poth would often stop and walk back toward the two men yelling explicit language in their direction. As the three approached a sports store down the block, Pandya said Bushong and Poth began arguing face to face.
Pandya told jurors that he then saw Poth strike Bushong in the chest.
“It looked like a punch or a slap,” Pandya said.
Surveillance video from that street shows Poth stumbling forward, then turning around to look back at Bushong, before leaving. Moments later Bushong is seen lunging toward the direction Poth ran, then out of the camera’s view. Bushong is seen back in camera view seconds later, yelling out at Poth.
Pandya is seen catching up with Bushong then pointing at Bushong’s chest. Pandya said Tuesday that there was blood on Bushong’s shirt, and that Bushong did not initially know he had been stabbed. Bushong is then seen lifting his shirt up to examine where the blood is coming from. Seconds later he collapses to the ground.
“He fell down face first,” Pandya testified. “So I applied pressure to his wound.”
Dr. Joseph Pestaner conducted the autopsy on Bushong and testified Tuesday that Bushong died from a stab wound to the left side of his chest; the weapon had damaged the root of his aorta.
Poth’s attorney, Bernard Grimm, questioned Pandya’s identification on Poth as the person responsible for Bushong’s death. Court documents state that in an interview with police Pandya told detectives that the man who stabbed Bushong wore a black baseball cap and khaki shorts. Poth, though, wore blue jeans, a t-shirt, and no baseball cap in all video footage captured the day of the murder.
Grimm pointed out that Pandya’s description of the suspect fit the build of the bar employee who kicked Bushong out of Molly Malone’s shortly before the stabbing.
“That’s what I recalled at the time,” Pandya said.
Prosecutors in the trial rested their case Wednesday. Trial will resume tomorrow at 10:15 a.m. with witnesses called on behalf of Poth’s defense.
Megan Arellano contributed to this report.