STATEN ISLAND — The man accused of stabbing his girlfriend and three daughters more than 130 times inside a hotel claimed in court Tuesday during his murder trial that he was actually trying to save the children from their psychotic mother.
Michael Sykes, 26, testified that Rebecca Cutler, 26, fatally stabbed her daughter Ziana Cutler, 1, and their 4-month-old daughter, Mayiah Sykes, inside the Ramada Inn at 535 Gannon Ave. N. on Feb. 10, 2016 after he broke up with her.
"I attempted to save what was left but it was too late," Sykes said. "I couldn't believe what was going on."
Cutler's daughter, Miracle, who was 2 years old at the time, was also stabbed about 11 times but survived.
During part of Sykes' explanation of events, one juror could clearly be seen shaking his head "no."
Prosecutors previously said Sykes stabbed Cutler and the children because he was in jealous rage over texts she got from another man.
"Each stab wound is an expression of rage," said Assistant District Attorney Ann Thompson during her opening statement on Oct. 11. "Each one is telling you he intended to kill four people."
In court, Sykes said he was never bothered by the text messages but decided to break it off with Cutler — who he claimed was mentally ill — the night before the deaths.
When he told her it was over the next day, she started to physically attack him, he said. "I tried to leave the room," Sykes told the court. "She started arguing with me, getting physical and attacked me."
Cutler then grabbed a knife from a drawer and lunged at him. When he pushed her to the ground, she turned on the children watching cartoons in the room and started to stab them, Sykes said.
Eventually, he wrestled the knife away from Cutler then stabbed her more than 60 times.
Sykes said he didn't call 911 or ask for help from staff at the hotel because "there were no signs of life in that room when I left." He was also afraid people wouldn't believe his side of the story.
Instead, he left through the back door and hopped on a bus to the Staten Island Ferry. He ditched his blood-stained jacket on the railing and threw Cutler's cellphone off the side of the boat.
On the way he called his mom and confessed to the killings then told her he was going to kill himself. He testified that he walked to the Manhattan Bridge and walked over the railing, but couldn't bring himself to jump.
"It's not so simple as people make it seem," Sykes said.
He visited two friend's home and spent most of the afternoon smoking weed and playing video games, Thompson said.
Sykes said he spent four days riding subways around the city until he was eventually arrested in Queens trying to go back to his friend's house for money.
During his testimony, Sykes painted himself as a doting father who treated Cutler's two other children as his own and did everything he could for them — despite being unemployed.
"I loved the children," he said. "I did everything that needed to be done: emotionally, physically, mentally."
He said Cutler told him numerous times she never wanted the kids.
"Having them was a burden to her," Sykes said.
However, Cutler's family described her as a loving mother who was attached to her daughters.
"She loved her kids," Erika Holden, Cutler's cousin, previously said. "Everywhere she went, they went."
Sykes sat motionless Tuesday during his testimony — which his lawyer Mark Fonte attributed to a side effect of his anti-depressant. Outside of court, Fonte maintained Sykes' innocence and that his testimony held up against Thompson's cross-examination.
"The evildoer in this case was not my client," said Fonte. "She was the aggressor. She was the evildoer. She stabbed the children. He tried to protect the last one and unfortunately it was a hellish situation."
Cutler had been living at the Ramada Inn as part of a program to use commercial hotels to house homeless people, police said.
Cutler, Ziana and Mayiah died at nearby hospitals after the attack and was released weeks later from Richmond University Medical Center.
Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to phase out the use of commercial hotels as homeless shelters after the murder, however the city has not ended that policy as in fact adding new hotels to the program.