ASOTIN - A well-known Clarkston man is on trial in Asotin County for allegedly threatening to kill a contractor and his dog.

During opening remarks Thursday in Superior Court, Deputy Prosecutor Curt Liedkie said Bernie McCabe made the death threats during a profanity-laced attack on Brady O'Kelley at Early Bird Supply in Clarkston. In addition, the 74-year-old is charged with animal cruelty and intimidating a witness.

McCabe, a former Clarkston city councilor and Asotin County commissioner, denies the accusations. His attorney, Steve Martonick of Pullman, painted O'Kelley as a playground "tattletale" who blew the incident out of proportion to get sympathy.

"Brady O'Kelley took the opportunity to get Bernie in trouble and that's why we're sitting here today," Martonick said. "He doesn't fight his own fights. He gets someone else to fight them for him."

O'Kelley, a 44-year-old contractor, was the first witness called to the stand by the state. He broke down in tears as he listened to the 911 recording from the May 9, 2016, incident, saying he is still terrified of McCabe.

"It's been horrible," he said. "I'm very uncomfortable living in Asotin County."

He and the defendant have known each other since O'Kelley was in grade school at Holy Family with McCabe's kids. In recent years, McCabe hired O'Kelley to repair some fire damage at his house after firing the initial contractor.

McCabe filed a civil lawsuit against the first contractor and wanted O'Kelley to testify that his workmanship was sub-par. On the day before the 2014 trial began, O'Kelley said he wasn't going to testify.

According to Liedkie, McCabe lost the civil lawsuit and blamed O'Kelley. Last spring the two men ran into each other in the caulking aisle at Early Bird Supply.

O'Kelley told the jury McCabe was friendly at first, saying, "Hey, man, why didn't you come and testify?"

Then he snapped and started using foul language, saying he was going to "kick my ass," O'Kelley said.

"I knew the day was coming when I would run into Mr. McCabe and this would go down," O'Kelley said. "I've never been so frightened in my life."

The alleged tirade resumed in the parking lot. O'Kelley said McCabe opened the passenger door of his vehicle and said, "I'm going to kill your dog and I'm going to kill you next."

O'Kelley said the defendant grabbed his dog - a Yorkshire terrier named Lucy - by the neck and had it in a death grip. When O'Kelley picked up his cellphone to call 911, McCabe dropped the dog and left, he said.

When asked why he was frightened by a much older man, O'Kelley said he knew McCabe had been a Golden Gloves boxer and he had previously threatened to "shove a gun down my throat and blow my hemorrhoids out."

After the alleged incident, O'Kelley said he called police, took his dog home and went back to work. He called the veterinarian at lunch after noticing the dog appeared skittish and was not behaving normally.

On cross-examination, Martonick played a snippet of the 911 call, pointing out that O'Kelley told the operator McCabe had "screwed him over" and "done him wrong" in the past.

Martonick also brought up a $100 check O'Kelley recently sent to Pullman attorney Roger Sandberg, who is a witness in this case. O'Kelley said it was a gesture of kindness because Sandberg once gave him some legal advice.

Martonick asked O'Kelley if he strangled the Yorkie, which prompted an incredulous response.

"What kind of question is that?" O'Kelley said.

After an objection from the prosecutor, Martonick withdrew the query and asked another zinger. "But you have strangled a dog, haven't you?"

Liedkie objected again, saying the question was out of line and an attempt to prejudice the jury. The judge agreed and it was removed from the record.

The second witness of the day was Dr. Kariann Ruff, a vet at Southway Animal Clinic. She said O'Kelley brought Lucy in for an examination the morning after the incident. The small dog was quieter than usual and didn't look up, the veterinarian testified, but the Yorkie did not have any bruising or fractures. Ruff said prescribed an anti-inflammatory and recommended one to two weeks of kennel rest.

The remainder of the afternoon's testimony came from Early Bird employees and customers who witnessed the altercation.

The jury panel consists of 10 men and four women. Two alternates will be dismissed prior to deliberations.

At the defense table, McCabe sat quietly through the first day of the trial, sometimes shaking his head during O'Kelley's testimony.

The defendant has a long history of making headlines, including an infamous 1995 dispute that made national news.

During a Clarkston City Council meeting, McCabe was hit with pepper spray, wrestled to the ground and arrested after he repeatedly refused to stop talking about a zoning decision.

His two-day trial resumes at 8:30 a.m. today in Asotin County Superior Court.

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Sandaine may be contacted at kerris@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.

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