Lawyers give opening statements in David Sean Hunter's homicide trial for 2019 stabbing

Isabella Rosario
Ames Tribune

The trial of an Ames man charged with killing his roommate in 2019 will hinge upon whether the jury finds he acted in self-defense.

Attorneys for David Sean Hunter, 57, are not disputing that he stabbed 37-year-old Christopher Swalwell with a kukri machete at their apartment Nov. 7, 2019. Swalwell died of his injuries at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines the next day.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Hunter faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is a very simple case," defense attorney Tiffany Kragnes said in opening statements Tuesday morning. "We know kind of what happened. We know who did it."

Both the defense and the prosecution agree that night's events started with a dispute over money for video games. Hunter had given Swalwell his credit card information in order to create an account for a game on Swalwell's Xbox, attorneys said, and while Hunter thought the charge would be $1, the charge was actually $15.99.

That's where the agreements end.

"This is ... not about 15 dollars," Kragnes said. "It's about Sean Hunter doing what he had to do."

From 2019: Police say Ames man was fatally stabbed by his roommate

Kragnes said a verbal argument between the two men that night turned physical. She told the jury that evidence would show Swalwell had his hands around Hunter's neck and was on top of him.

"Did Sean Hunter have a kukri knife? Yup. But he did what he had to do to make sure that he was going to live," Kragnes said.

The state is arguing that Hunter simply acted out of rage over the $15.99 charge — "We're here because of fifteen dollars and 99 cents," Story County Assistant Attorney Tiffany Meredith said.

Hunter was so angry over the charge, Meredith said, that he went to confront Swalwell in his room. When Swalwell responded that he was sleeping, Meredith said that Hunter brought in his knife and "picked a fight."

"By Mr. Hunter's own words to law enforcement and to his best friend, Mr. Swalwell asked him, 'are you done yet?' ... Mr. Hunter's words were, 'No, I don't think I am,'" Meredith said.

Meredith said the state medical examiner will say Swalwell sustained around 40 hits from the knife, for a total of 27 wound complexes.

"You will hear from the paramedic that was in there how this was a lot for him to take in, and they are shocked (Swalwell) made it out of that bathroom alive where they found him," Meredith said.

The trial will continue until at least July 26, according to court documents.

Isabella Rosario is a public safety reporter for the Ames Tribune. She can be reached by email at irosario@gannett.com or on Twitter at @irosarioc.