'He tried to kill me'
Published: September 12, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - William Clark spent about two hours Tuesday recounting "absolutely the worst day" of his life.
The day in question, Sept. 7, 2008, is when Clark, an off-duty agent for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, shot and killed Marcus Sukow outside his Mahogany Run condominium after Sukow, drunk and wielding a Maglite flashlight, confronted Sukow's girlfriend, Clark and others.
"He tried to smash me in the head," Clark said. "He tried to kill me."
Clark's testimony was the focal point of the second day of a civil trial in which Sukow's estate is seeking up to $25 million in compensatory and punitive damages from Clark and the ATF. The agent's version of events never was heard in a 2010 criminal trial against him because a judge dismissed the second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and weapons charges against him.
Clark, who spoke so softly that he was instructed several times to repeat his answers more directly into the court's microphone, recounted meeting Sukow and his girlfriend, Marguerite Duncan, in April 2008, shortly after moving into a Mahogany Run condo downstairs from theirs.
"We were on a first-name basis - Marcus and Margie," Clark said.
He described successfully helping de-escalate three public arguments the couple had prior to September 2008 by telling one person to drive away and the other to go inside.
"In the past, I've talked to them as a neighbor and been able to resolve it by telling them to separate," Clark said.
Clark said he was hoping to do the same on Sept. 7, 2008, when, while walking to his car for a Sunday morning trip to the gym, he encountered the couple arguing.
"I wasn't trying to get involved in their affairs," he said. "I was just trying to get to my car."
Duncan came up to Clark "begging for help," her hands shaking and her face tear-streaked with mascara, the agent testified.
"She looked terrified," Clark said.
Clark said he saw a "completely naked" Sukow not far from Duncan, "wailing away" and "going berserk" on her car with a Maglite flashlight. Clark described the Maglite as between 12 and 18 inches long and said it was heavy and made of steel. He also talked about how it could effectively be used as a weapon and could cause serious injury or death.
"It's like a steel pipe," Clark said.
The agent said he suspected Sukow was drunk and possibly under the influence of drugs.
"I had never seen him behave so violently and erratically," Clark said.
Sukow, who Clark described as "a big guy, a barrel-chested guy," was cursing at his girlfriend and threatened to "blow" her "head off." He approached within an arm's reach of Clark, so close that Clark could smell Sukow's sweat and the alcohol coming off his breath, the agent said.
The escalation of the argument, underscored by the presence of the Maglite as a weapon, Duncan's apparent fear and Sukow's size and proximity to Clark, prompted the agent to take Sukow's threat seriously, Clark said.
"He just threatened to kill somebody," Clark said. "I felt an obligation not only as a law enforcement officer but as a neighbor, as a human being."
Clark said he told Duncan to get in her car and leave, and he also got into his car. But when Duncan tried to back out, Sukow stood in the middle of the road blocking her way, Clark said.
"She couldn't get by him short of running him over," Clark said.
Duncan then ran to Clark's car, by which time Clark had one foot out of the car facing toward Sukow as Sukow demanded his girlfriend get out of Clark's car.
Asked to demonstrate what Sukow was doing as he approached Clark before the agent fired five shots at his chest, Clark stood in the witness box Tuesday and held a Maglite flashlight near his right ear.
"He came at me," Clark said, making a chopping motion with the foot-long metal flashlight. "That's the last I saw."
Clark dropped the Maglite to the table in front of him with a clang.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs and defense also presented expert witnesses to testify on the issue of how much Sukow's estate lost because of Sukow's death.
The plaintiff's expert, Richard Moore, put the total figure at a little more than $1.3 million.
The defense expert, John Wills, pegged it at $259,000.
The main discrepancy between the figures stems from the different percentages the expert witnesses used to calculate how much Sukow likely would have spent and how much he would have saved from his earnings. Moore's figure was based on Sukow spending 23 percent of his income on personal expenses; Wills' figure was based on him spending 64 percent.
The Sukow estate asked for $25 million in damages in an August 2010 tort of claim notice arguing Sukow died because Clark used force unjustifiably. The federal government denied the claim and has since argued Clark was acting in self-defense.
The trial is scheduled to end with closing arguments today before being sent to the jury, which ultimately will decide the question of whether Clark was justified in his use of force and, if not, how much that is worth to Sukow's estate.
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.