A friendship ends with a stab to the heart. Was it murder or self-defense?

Eric Kenneth Smith is being tried for murder in the stabbing death of 23-year-old Anthony Romero in May 2018.
Eric Kenneth Smith is being tried for murder in the stabbing death of 23-year-old Anthony Romero in May 2018.

Eric Smith said the friendship he had with Anthony Romero was simple: Smoke meth, hit the casino and pick up girls for fun.

Then, the roughly four-year relationship ended violently with Romero’s death. Now, Smith is on trial in Fresno Superior Court accused of murdering Romero.

Friday, Smith took the stand. In an hours-long hearing, the jury also heard a police interview recording of his friend, Lauren Means.

“He wanted to start getting his life back together,” Smith said, testifying in court about the friendship and of the day he says he had to defend himself from Romero.

Authorities arrested Smith, 36, on May 26, 2018, shortly after he was reportedly confronted by Romero at the home of Romero’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Means.

During a fight, Smith allegedly stabbed Romero twice, once in the left side of the body and once in the heart, leaving him to bleed profusely and later die at the hospital.

‘We were friends’

Prosecutor Elana Smith tried repeatedly Friday to string together a story of Eric Smith’s romantic history with Means and jealousy about her relationship with Romero. But Eric Smith denied it all. Though he had feelings for Means at one point, that was years back and she has since dated other people, like Romero, he said. As for Eric Smith’s defense, his attorney Tony Capozzi maintains that the case isn’t about jealousy among the three people – it’s about self-defense.

Eric Smith testified Friday that at the time of Romero’s death, Romero was the one dating Means. Though, evidence provided so far in the trial suggests it was a rocky relationship.

Eric Smith said Means once turned up badly bruised on her leg and on her upper chest. In a recording from a police interview heard in court, officers questioned Means about another bruise on her face. She deflected the questions.

Eric Smith was aware of the pair’s troubles. In a 3 a.m. Facebook chat, Smith and Romero discussed the ongoing issues between the couple. And later that morning, Romero sent Smith a recorded audio message where he says, “She’s cut off, I’m not going to (expletive) with her again.”

The two had been talking about straightening out their own friendship as well as Romero’s relationship with others.

“We were friends,” said Eric Smith.

But Eric Smith revealed in court that Romero had robbed him at gunpoint months before the stabbing, taking off with Smith’s wallet, phone and sunglasses and setting off an unfriendly path. Eric Smith never reported the robbery to police.

Fresno County Sheriff’s deputies investigate a stabbing May 26, 2018 in the Tarpey Village area. CRESENCIO RODRIGUEZ-DELGADO

Smith testified he was at Means’ home when Romero showed up on May 26, 2018, though Smith’s truck had been parked away from the home because Means did not want anyone to know she was home. Smith said Romero arrived, banged on the front door and shouted “Come out. I wanna talk to you,” and “Let me in. I’m not going to hurt Eric.”

Smith and Means have testified Romero barged in and as soon as he did, he threw punches at Smith. The two began fighting after Romero’s dog, Creamer, knocked Smith off his feet in the kitchen.

Means ran to get her children in their room. When she came back out, blood was on the wall and Romero was falling. He lifted his shirt and revealed a stab wound.

“Everything happened so fast,” Smith said several times in court as he struggled to remember details when he was grilled by the prosecutor.

The jury was asked to return Tuesday as the case continues.

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