By Jim Melwert


By Jim Melwert

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (CBS) —  The trial is underway of a Lansdale man charged with first and third degree murder in a stabbing at a Montgomery County meat-packing plant.

Peter Atem is charged with 1st and 3rd degree murder in the death of 25-year-old Danny Vazquez at the MOPAC JBS rendering plant in Franconia Township in February of last year.

In opening statements in Montgomery County court, Prosecutors say Atem was not scheduled to work, and was not supposed to be at the plant that day, they say he was there only to kill Vazquez, and that along with other evidence, they say, along with an attempted suicide and a note left by the defendant, show he is guilty of 1st degree murder.

But defense attorney Ben Cooper says this shouldn’t be 1st or 3rd degree murder, instead, voluntary manslaughter. He traced his client’s history, his birth into tribal warfare in Sudan, taken from his family at age five, only to end up in another war in Ethiopia, then captured and turned into a child-soldier at just 12-years-old. Resulting, Cooper says, in a diagnosis of PTSD and profound depression.

He says the day before Vazquez was killed, he pulled a chair from under Atem, and after a physical altercation, threatened to get Atem fired.

Cooper tells the jury his client acted in a mistaken belief of self-defense and that, he says, should be voluntary manslaughter, not premeditated murder or murder with malice.