Without taking the witness stand in his own defense, jurors on Thursday heard Deandre Varner confess during an interview with police to stabbing his wife to death at their Bynum home in August 2015.
“She was about to go for the knife. I just blacked out. Started sticking her,” he said during a taped interview the day after Teneshia Varner was killed. “My baby girl’s bus pulled up. I laid her down and told her I was sorry.”
Varner’s confession was played during the third day of testimony in his murder trial. The 35-year-old was charged with murder the same day he gave his confession, police testified in the previous two days of trial. Prosecutors and attorneys have said jurors will not decide whether Varner killed his wife but rather whether the crime was intentional murder or manslaughter in the “heat of the moment.”
During the first day of testimony, Dr. Valerie Green, a forensic pathologist, said the 32-year-old Bynum woman was beaten, cut and stabbed more than 15 times. In the second day of testimony, Varner’s friend, Stephanie Wilson, recounted the moment she found her friend dead on the kitchen floor.
Deandre Varner previously indicated he wanted to testify in his own defense, his attorneys had said, but rescinded that decision moments before he was to take the stand on Thursday.
“During the break, we discussed his wish to testify. He was advised early on that his testimony is one of the three things he has complete control over,” Attorney David Johnston told the court as the jury waited outside of the courtroom. “He expressed in the last break that he did not want to testify. It’s ultimately his decision.”
During the taped interview, Varner told Oxford police Investigator Jason Webb that he’d had an affair and the couple worked through it. Then Varner claimed he discovered his wife was also having an affair. A month and a half before Teneshia Varner was killed, she signed a warrant against her husband in connection to a domestic violence incident.
“There was another guy, so I snatched the phone up, I got mad,” he said.
In a 911 call, Teneshia Varner told dispatchers that her husband hit her and threatened to kill her.
“I had to leave with my children. He tried kicking the back door and I went out the front with my children. He hit me but I’m OK,” she says in a recording that was played for jurors.
Varner’s middle child, Madison Collie, now 13, said Deandre Varner poured a liquid on the front door that June night.
“He said ‘open the door, or I’ll set the house on fire,’” Collie testified. “I heard something splashing on the door. I thought it was gas or water. He went off the porch into the backyard. Mom opened the front door, and told us to run.”
Oxford police Officer Craig Carr responded to the Beck Road home the night of the domestic dispute.
“When I walked up to that residence, I spotted a container on the front of the trailer, next to a chair,” he testified on Thursday. “It seemed kind of strange. It looked like a drink bottle but didn’t look like it had something like a drink in it. As I got to the door I did smell a flammable liquid.”
The day after the incident, Varner signed a warrant against her husband but asked police to withhold it.
“She stated that she wanted to hold off on having the warrant issued to see if he would give her her belongings back without having to be arrested,” Crystal Howard, a magistrate for Oxford Municipal Court, testified on Thursday. “Said she would contact us to let us know what we needed to do further, if she wanted us to pursue the arrest or have it dropped all together.”
The magistrate, after conferring with a police investigator and having no contact with Varner, ultimately rescinded the warrant after about three weeks, Howard said.
Then that August day, Deandre Varner told police he’d gone home to wait for the children to return from school.
“I get to the house and I’m sitting on the porch,” he told police. “She pulls up, a black Cadillac pulls up.”
Varner continued to tell police he exchanged heated words with the man and that his wife told the alleged man to leave. The interaction, he said, sent him into a rage which ultimately led to his wife’s death.
Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh previously told jurors there was no evidence of a man in a Cadillac.
“We’ve seen video of her leaving the school,” he said. “There was probably two to three minutes difference between the time she left the school and the time her daughter’s bus got home. That’s not a lot of time to fool around with someone.”
Two of Teneshia Varner’s friends testified that the woman never mentioned a love interest outside of her husband. Webb also testified that police checked Varner’s claim and were unable to find any evidence to support it.
After about five and a half hours of testimony, Circuit Judge Brian Howell sent the jury home for the day. Prosecutors will begin with closing arguments on Friday at 10 a.m.