Amid a barrage of questions, Philadelphia City Councilman David Oh stayed calm Tuesday while testifying against the man charged with stabbing him during an attempted robbery in front of his Southwest Philadelphia home last May 31.
Despite defense attorney Samuel C. Stretton's grilling of Oh about various conflicting physical descriptions he'd previously given about his attacker and the size of the knife used, Oh, 58, maintained that the perpetrator was Stretton's client, Shawn Yarbray, 25.
"I'm more sure that Shawn Yarbray, unfortunately, stabbed me that evening than I am sure about the length of the knife," testified Oh, the trial's first witness.
Oh, a two-term Republican elected to an at-large Council seat, recounted in a matter-of-fact tone that the attack happened about 9:45 p.m. after he had parked his SUV and removed from the trunk a gym bag, a computer bag, a bag of books, and a bottle of wine he'd received that day as a gift from officials of the Republic of Georgia.
Yarbray, he said, behaved as if "something traumatic had happened to him" as he approached and slowly asked for the councilman's keys, wallet, and cash while clutching a knife in his right hand.
"'Give me everything, I want everything,'" Oh said Yarbray demanded before stabbing him in his left rib area, resulting in a perforated lung, and slashing his left elbow.
"He sort of just punched me in the rib … and I said, 'You stabbed me, you stabbed me,'" said Oh, a resident since 1963 of the block where the attack took place. He said the ordeal lasted about eight minutes, prolonged by his backing away from Yarbray's repeated lunges, and by ducking behind his parked SUV.
Some neighbors watched, he said, although none cooperated with the police. At one point, Oh testified, a car carrying several young men pulled close and the occupants appeared to ask the attacker if he needed help. Before driving away, two or three men got out of the car and recorded the attack on cellphones, Oh said.
Doctors at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center advised him to stay in the hospital for three days, but Oh testified that he checked out the day after the attack to get home to his shaken wife and children.
That day, police drove him around Southwest Philadelphia looking for the attacker, but came up empty. A day later, Oh was shown 320 Philadelphia Police Department file photos, including one of Yarbray, whom he identified as his attacker, Assistant District Attorney Lori Edelman-Orem said in her opening argument.
"He said, 'That's him!' upon being shown a picture of Shawn Yarbray," Edelman-Orem told the jury.
"This is a crime about opportunity and an easy target," she said, noting that Oh was loaded down with bags and is "short of stature," at 5-foot-6.
Stretton told the jury that Yarbray is a victim of mistaken identity. Yarbray will testify about his whereabouts the night of the stabbing, as will several alibi witnesses, the attorney said.
He asked jurors to consider that Oh's identification of Yarbray has not been corroborated by anyone else, that the knife used in the attack has not been found, no fingerprints link his client to the crime and no video evidence exists. He said that eyewitness identification is often faulty and is even more so when the witness and the accused are of different races. Oh is Asian American, and Yarbray is African American.
"It's a classic reasonable-doubt case," Stretton said.
Yarbray is charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault, robbery, and related counts. Testimony will resume Wednesday morning.