Was it an act of premeditated attempted murder by a "crazed" lover or an act of self-defense by a man with no history of violence? It will be up to a jury to decide.
At times salacious and theatrical, opening statements began Monday in the trial of Shelley Malil, the actor best known for his role in the movie "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." Malil is accused of repeatedly stabbing his girlfriend in the back yard of her San Marcos home in August 2008.
“With the casual familiarity of a close friend, Shelley Malil walked up to Kendra Beebe and stabbed her in the torso,” said prosecuting attorney Keith Wantanabe.
Wantanabe said Beebe was eventually stabbed at least 20 times by Malil. Beebe, who is scheduled to testify either late Monday or Tuesday, suffered near life-threatening wounds that included two punctured lungs.
A district attorney's office investigator said in court papers filed in connection with the case that Beebe told her she knew Malil for about a year but ended the relationship when he became "very possessive and jealous."
During his opening statements, Wantanabe gave details about an on-again, off-again relationship that included an incident in which Malil allegedly e-mailed nude pictures of him and the defendant having sex to her fellow employees. The prosecutor also told the jury that Malil stabbed Beebe first with a knife from his own home, and then, later, with a large butcher knife taken from Beebe's kitchen.
It became clear that Beebe’s history of turbulent previous relationships will be an important factor in the trial. Wantanabe acknowledged that she will have "credibility problems" and has "been a part of a lot of dramatic relationships," including a heated child-custody battle with a former husband.
Defense attorney Matthew Roberts told the jury Beebe has a history of violence, has attacked her ex-husband, and would fall into jealous rages. He said Malil acted in self-defense.
Roberts said that on the night of the attack, Malil went to Beebe's home to apologize for sending out the e-mails of the couple and found her in an intimate setting with another man. The defense attorney said Malil had a knife because he feared for his own safety and was eventually attacked by Beebe with a garden hoe on the side of the house.
The defense attorney told jurors that the knife was taken from Malil in a struggle with the other man, David Maldonado. He said Malil then grabbed the second knife to protect himself when Maldonado left the scene to go out to his car.
Prosecutors, though, maintain that Malil stabbed Beebe, presumably with the first knife, when he arrived at the house and appeared to be giving Beebe a hug. Roberts, though, said Beebe's DNA was not found on the first knife. Roberts said Malil was cowering on the side of the house when he was attacked in the dark, unable to see who was striking him.
At one time during his opening statement, Roberts dramatically held up a garden hoe in front of jurors and jabbed it downward.
"She sees Shelley and immediately starts, boom, whaling him, hitting him, boom," Roberts told jurors.
Roberts said the majority of Beebe's wounds were lacerations, "consistent with someone trying to protect themselves while being hit. Not stabs.”
Roberts said Beebe had only befriended Malil in order to have him testify against her ex-husband in a bitter child custody dispute.
Later on Monday, jurors heard from neighbor Ali Baquero Lee, who said she heard screams that night coming from Beebe.
"She was screaming pretty hysterically," Lee told the court. "She was saying, 'Help, help! Call the police! Call 911!' "
Roberts said Malil, who faces life in prison if convicted, will testify in the case.
The trial is expected to last until next week.