Questions linger in stabbing death

Kayley Parrish, 26, cries on Wednesday in front of a memorial to her fiance, Stewart Pelfrey, near the spot on Deidrich Street in North Charleston where Pelfrey was fatally stabbed April 25. Investigators have said that the suspect, Alexander Duke, was acting in self-defense because he was attacked by three men, but Parrish said that Pelfrey was only trying to break up a fight.

The bloody scene that Alexander Duke left behind two weeks ago disturbed some who witnessed it and others who heard about it.

He saw stabbing three people as the only option to defend himself. But others saw it as an overreaction.

Duke, 20, drove that day to a North Charleston home where his girlfriend was at a party. He didn't want the 15-year-old with strangers drinking alcohol.

But the people he encountered early on April 25 didn't want him there either. They worried that he might hurt the girl.

Duke and the teenager sat inside his Ford Explorer and talked. Their conversation became heated. People gathered outside. They banged on the windows, Duke said, and someone opened his door.

As they pulled him outside, Duke grabbed his knife. They kicked and punched him, he said. He got stabbed in the leg, probably by his own weapon.

Tall and lanky, Duke figured that he didn't stand a chance against the crowd. So he gripped the long kitchen knife and swung it. He jabbed it.

"They surrounded my car like vultures," he said. "I stood my ground, but they kept coming and coming."

His blade caught two of the men. It plunged into the chest of a third, 30-year-old Stewart Pelfrey. His wound was fatal.

With that account of self-defense, Duke has avoided arrest. For a law-abiding man who fears for his life, the S.C. Protection of Persons and Property Act would allow his use of deadly force.

But the death of Pelfrey, a doting father, poses another scenario in which the victim's family has questioned whether the "stand-your-ground" law should afford that level of immunity from prosecution to someone like Duke.

Pelfrey tried to defuse the confrontation after his guests went outside to shoo Duke away, loved ones said.

Kayley Parrish, 26, saw Duke stab her fiance as he attempted to break up the skirmish. She tried to breathe life back into Pelfrey, but he died outside the home where her children slept.

Detectives from the North Charleston Police Department have not closed their investigation, but at first blush, Duke's self-defense story appeared sound to them.

"They told me that my husband died because (Duke) thought he was going to hurt him," said Parrish, who had planned to marry Pelfrey. "I'm not going to accept that."

The night before he died, Pelfrey spoke with his father.

The Lugoff resident knew his son was hosting a party at his mobile home on Deidrich Street. He knew his son's cousins would attend.

More than a decade earlier, Pelfrey had been arrested for property crimes. None of his offenses were violent, but his father worried that his guests could bring mischief.

"I just had this feeling, this parental instinct," Larry Pelfrey said. "I got off the phone and told my fiance that I hope nothing happens."

At first, the evening was fun for Stewart Pelfrey.

A dozen people ate banana pudding, cake and chips. They sang karaoke. Pelfrey could deliver an entertaining rendition of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe."

But some of the guests brought drama to his home.

His cousin had invited two teenage girls. One complained about her boyfriend, Duke, but at some point, the other teenager called him for a ride.

Learning that his girlfriend was there upset Duke. He said he feared for her safety.

But in the past, Duke has found himself in trouble with authorities who said he tried to protect a runaway girl, also 15. In January, police officers showed up at his Winona Street home and asked about her.

Duke told the police that she wasn't there, their report stated. But she was.

He was jailed on a misdemeanor charge of interfering with the police - his only arrest in South Carolina.

When he arrived around 2:30 a.m. April 25 at the Dorchester Village Mobile Home Park, Duke parked his Ford across the street. His girlfriend later walked out.

The couple talked in his Ford, he said, as he kept his hands to himself. He later put the Ford in drive, but he said someone had stepped in front of it.

"I was trying to ignore the men surrounding my vehicle," he said. "At the first opportunity ... I was going to leave."

But they didn't get out of the way, he said.

Someone reached through an open window and unlocked his door. As a half-dozen men started pulling him out, Duke said, he snatched the knife between his seat and the armrest.

Most drivers in South Carolina must store their firearms in latched containers, such as a glove box. State law doesn't require the same for knives.

Duke had the knife, he said, because criminals were "always trying to hurt me or steal something from my car."

Still in gear, Duke's Ford lurched ahead and hit another car after the men yanked him out.

"At least three of them grabbed my shirt and threw me to the ground," the 6-foot, 130-pound man said. "They started beating me in the head, kicking me on the ground."

To his loved ones, Pelfrey was a peacemaker during the ordeal.

While the argument between Duke and his girlfriend grew louder, they said, Pelfrey told his guests to go back inside.

"We were just trying to get the dude to leave," said Mike Linn, 20, of Goose Creek, one of Pelfrey's friends there. "He would not leave. He was mad."

Melvin Andrew Boggs, Pelfrey's cousin from Fort Lawn, confronted Duke. But the witnesses wouldn't say how the altercation became physical.

Parrish ran outside and saw Boggs being stabbed in Duke's Ford, she said. Andrew James Cumpston, 20, of Richburg was wounded as he tried to pull Duke off Boggs.

Boggs was stabbed 12 times, he later said on Facebook. He needed 37 staples. The knife once pierced his shoulder and stuck out the other side.

"My favorite cousin just died (saving) my life," Boggs, who couldn't be reached for further comment, wrote.

Pelfrey was grabbing his cousin in an attempt to free him, Parrish said, when the knife plunged into his heart.

That's when Duke yelled, "I'm going to kill you all," Parrish and other witnesses said. Duke recalled shouting something, but not those words.

"Baby, he stabbed me," Pelfrey said to Parrish. "I can't breathe."

Those were his last words. Parrish wrapped her arms around the man she called her husband, but he fell.

She kneeled next to him.

Duke wanted to help, he said, so he kneeled, too. But Parrish punched him in the face before she did CPR on Pelfrey.

"His eyes were wide open," Parrish said, "when he gasped one last time."

Duke drove to his mother's house on Holbird Drive. He left the knife on his Ford's front passenger seat.

There, he realized that he had been cut on his left forearm, he said. When he found the stab wound in his right leg, he screamed. His mother cried.

Police officers soon showed up and handcuffed him.

"He was afraid," his mother said in a 911 call. "They're treating him like he did something wrong."

Paramedics bandaged his wounds, and detectives questioned him for 16 hours. But without evidence of a crime, they let him go.

No information uncovered since then has changed that, police spokesman Spencer Pryor said.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson agreed with the detectives' approach to the homicide investigation.

The case shares a similarity to a shooting last year that killed three people at the Cycle Gear store on Dorchester Road.

Then, Summerville resident Ronald Reid said he happened upon a fight between members of his motorcycle club and two other bikers. One of the two bikers shot at the opposing group members in self-defense. When a bullet hit him, Reid fired his own pistol and killed the man.

A murder charge against Reid was later dismissed when a judge ruled that no evidence indicated that Reid was involved in the fight. Reid acted legally under the state's stand-your-ground law, the judge ruled, when he shot the gunman, who also had opened fire in self-defense.

Like Reid, loved ones said Pelfrey got involved in a scuffle he had not initiated.

Duke said, though, that Pelfrey "was more than likely" with the group that confronted him. Even if Pelfrey walked up later, Duke said he saw everyone around him as a threat.

Pelfrey's family has asked for advice from Charleston attorney Andy Savage, who represented Reid.

His mother, Jackie Pelfrey of North Augusta, tried to make sense of the law.

"If someone walks up to my car and asks for directions, but I feel I'm in harm's way and stab him," she said, "is that self-defense?"

She last talked with her son the day before he died. Already the proud dad of a girl and a father figure to Parrish's children, Pelfrey was counting the days until he was scheduled to learn the gender of the baby Parrish is pregnant with.

"It's a boy," Parrish said of the news that came four days after his death. "He always wanted a boy."

Every day, Parrish walks by a roadside memorial to Pelfrey. It features flowers and a cross with "I love you" and "Go Gamecocks" scribbled in marker. A sign pinned to the cross says, "Baby boy."

"He sat there and cried at every ultrasound," Parrish said as she cried. "After he died, I was praying it was a boy."

Emotions also overwhelmed Duke, a thin young man with long hair and watches and rings on his right hand.

"I feel terrible on the inside," he said.

He still sees himself as the victim of an assault, not the ruthless murder suspect as some have labeled him.

But some of his friends have abandoned him. People have threatened him online. The girlfriend at the center of the dispute that night broke up with him.

Duke thought about whether he would have handled it differently.

"Yeah," he said. "I'd lay there and die."