Utah survivor of deadly night gives conflicting testimony
Courts • James Fiske says he saw defendant with gun before two women were killed.
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St. George • The survivor of an episode that left two women dead at a St. George apartment in 2010 gave testimony Monday that conflicts with what prosecutors believe happened.

Brandon Perry Smith, 32, is charged in 5th District Court with aggravated murder and aggravated assault for the stabbing death of 20-year-old Jerrica Christensen.

Prosecutors believe Smith killed Christensen to silence her just after Smith's friend, Paul Clifford Ashton, shot and killed Brandie Sue Dawn Jerden, 27, and shot and wounded James Fiske.

But Fiske testified at a Monday preliminary hearing that he saw Smith with a gun before the shooting started.

Testifying about events leading up to the slayings, Fiske said that at about 3 a.m. on Dec. 11, 2010, he was at the apartment with the two women, Smith and Ashton. At some point he saw Jerden "smack" Ashton.

Fiske testified that he saw Smith pull out a gun. Fiske said he heard a shot, then he stumbled out of the apartment, bleeding from a gunshot wound.

Prosecutors, however, believe Ashton fired the gun. And during Fiske's testimony, defense attorneys pointed out that Ashton had already pleaded guilty to fatally shooting Jerden.

Fiske responded by saying he was recalling the events as he remembered them.

After being shot, Fiske said took shelter behind a nearby electrical station. He called a friend and 911, then he moved into a nearby partially open garage.

Fiske testified that from the garage he saw someone — he could only see the person's feet and legs — get into Ashton's truck and drive away. Minutes later, the truck returned and Fiske heard the passenger door open and close.

Soon, Fiske's friends arrived, and they took off after Ashton's truck. Fiske said he "wanted retaliation" against the man who shot him, but when they found the truck it had already been stopped by police. At that point, Fiske got out of the car and yelled that Ashton had shot him.

He testified that he said Ashton had shot him because he didn't yet know who Smith was and wanted police — who had drawn their guns at him — to understand that he was a victim.

Smith looked tense during Fiske's testimony, leaning forward slightly in his chair and staring at his shackled feet. His long, dark braid fell halfway down his back.

Smith's preliminary hearing is scheduled to continue through the week and will determine if prosecutors have sufficient evidence to proceed with a trial.

Ashton, 34, pleaded guilty in July to killing Jerden, and a judge last month sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Ashton's former attorney, Aric Cramer, has previously said his client was being helpful when he allowed Jerden and her boyfriend, Matt McNee, to stay at his townhouse. Cramer said Ashton asked Jerden and McNee to move out shortly after they settled in, believing they were stealing items from him.

Christensen and her friend, Fiske, were asked to help with the move. It was while they were moving out that things got tense. Ashton called Smith and told him he was "in fear for his life," according to Cramer.

Cramer said when Smith arrived, he gave Ashton a .357 Magnum and kept a 9 mm handgun for himself.

Tensions continued to escalate, according to Cramer, until Jerden hit Ashton in the head with a toolbox. Ashton shot and killed Jerden with the .357, then fired at Fiske, wounding him in the shoulder.

Cramer said Smith allegedly found Christensen in the bathroom and stabbed her at least three times.

Tribune reporter Jessica Miller contributed to this story.

jdalrymple@sltrib.com