James Fortini had his music turned up and was working out in his cell at Kern Valley State Prison when he heard someone next door say, "You ain't gonna keep talking (expletive)."
Fortini lowered the volume on his radio then heard sounds of a scuffle followed by someone saying, "Come on, bro, that's enough," according to his testimony Wednesday in Kern County Superior Court. Next came the sound of what Fortini, 36, described as something sliding down a wall.
That was followed by a banging noise, caused by enough force Fortini could feel a vibration in the floor of his cell.
The noise stopped after five to 15 minutes, Fortini testified. Shortly afterward, he received a note from next door: "Send mine to my homies, I just killed my cellie."
Fortini said he didn't know which of the two men held in the cell to the right of him had written the note until officers arrived.
That's when Dennis Bratton, 46, was taken from the cell in handcuffs. His cellmate, Andrew Keel, 27, was dead, stomped to death May 16, 2013, in what prosecutors called a "brutal, vicious, horrific" attack.
Bratton, who was serving a life sentence at the time of the killing, is charged with assault by a life prisoner with force causing death. He faces the death penalty if convicted.
His attorneys, Pam Singh and Paul Cadman of the Public Defender's office, don't dispute Bratton killed Keel. But they've argued Bratton was fighting for his life and had no choice but to kill the other man.
Prosecutor Andi Bridges asked Fortini why, when first questioned by prison officials, he denied hearing or seeing anything regarding Keel's death. Fortini said he didn't want to be labeled a "rat" and face retaliation for cooperating with authorities.
Earlier, Fortini had testified he overheard Bratton make a comment about hurting Keel just days before the killing. Given that Keel was a friend, Bridges asked, why didn't he warn him about what Bratton said?
Fortini said it was none of his business.
"What happens when you get involved in other inmates' business?" Bridges asked.
"You could potentially get harmed yourself," Fortini said.
The repercussions, he testified, would be, at a minimum, getting beat up, to possibly being stabbed and killed.
He said he didn't begin telling investigators what he saw until he was taken to a location where no other inmates could see he was speaking to them. And, he said, he began to trust Bridges after repeated visits and after she assured him he would not face any charges.
Fortini testified he had been worried about being connected with the killing in any way, especially since he provided Bratton and Keel with three quarts of an alcoholic beverage called pruno, made from fermenting fruit, no more than a couple hours before Keel's death.
During cross-examination, Singh painted Fortini as an unreliable witness due to the numerous times he, by his own admission, has lied to authorities about Keel's death. She began asking him which specific statements were true and which were false in the times he's interviewed since the killing occurred.
Singh noted he even admitted to lying to Bridges during an interview where he claimed he was being "brutally honest" with the prosecutor. Fortini acknowledged the lies, but reiterated he had been concerned for his safety.
He said he's now incarcerated somewhere far from the Bakersfield area.
Fortini's testimony continues Thursday, the third day of a trial expected to last until mid-June.