Accused in Fayette County homicide retrial testifies about abusive relationship
A Fayette County woman and the man police said she fatally stabbed shared a rocky romantic relationship marked by verbal and physical abuse, according to the defendant and other witnesses who testified on the third day of her homicide retrial.
“It wasn’t always bad,” testified Dayna M. McMaster, describing her 5-year relationship with Clarence “Duke” Blair III. “It wasn’t always good. It was back and forth.”
A jury in 2010 convicted McMaster, 37, of third-degree murder in the June 26, 2009, stabbing of Blair.
Prosecutors said McMaster stabbed Blair, a tree-trimmer, in the heart while they were arguing on a gravel road near Cardale Elementary School in Redstone. Earlier in the evening, they had smoked crack cocaine.
McMaster drove Blair to Uniontown Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
McMaster was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison.
She was granted a retrial in August 2013, when a panel of state Superior Court judges found her attorney did not call witnesses whose testimony might have bolstered her allegations of domestic abuse.
McMaster testified she fell in love with Blair soon after the two met, but he became physically abusive within the first two weeks of their relationship. She said she sometimes hit him when he punched her, but most times she was “violent with my mouth, not my hands.”
Under questioning by defense attorney Dianne Zerega of Uniontown, McMaster testified Blair knocked out one of her front teeth, gave her black eyes and broke her nose. She sometimes called police but rarely pursued criminal charges.
“The times I did call the cops, I felt bad,” McMaster testified. “I called the cops for protection, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t see him go to jail.”
Her son, Garrett Cronin, testified he once saw Blair punch his mother in the head as the two argued. On another occasion, when he was 7 or 8 years old, he watched Blair chase his mother up a hill, pull her to the ground and punch her in the face.
One of her daughters, Brianna Cronin, testified her mother often returned home bruised and scratched, following weeklong stays with Blair. She testified she once saw Blair pull her mother’s hair and “beat her in the head with a beer bottle.”
Under cross-examination by District Attorney Jack Heneks, McMaster said she once hit Blair with an iron, but only because he was “beating me in my face.”
McMaster testified that on the day of the stabbing, the two were arguing over cellphones that Blair had sold to obtain cash for crack cocaine. She said she had planned to give one of the phones to one of her daughters.
“He sold my daughter’s cellphone, and I wanted him to buy her another one,” McMaster testified. “I told him to go sell his kids’ (expletives),” McMaster testified. “That’s when he backhanded me.”
McMaster testified she hid the knife under her as the two drove to a secluded gas well site in Redstone. She testified she planned to use the knife to “poke” Blair in the arm if he started to beat her, but she unintentionally stabbed him in the chest as he strangled her.
“I wanted his hands off my throat,” McMaster testified. “But I didn’t want this to happen.”
McMaster said she did not tell state police Blair was strangling her when she stabbed him, or ask for medical help for injuries she sustained when he hit her, because she was too distraught.
“I went into shock,” McMaster testified. “I just lost my fiancé to my own hands.”
Testimony is to resume Thursday before Senior Judge Gerald R. Solomon.
Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.