By Kathy and Finn
GRETNA, La. (Reuters) - The case of a man accused in the 2012 murder and dismemberment of a New Orleans nightclub dancer went to a jury on Friday after the man testified he did not commit the crime.
The testimony of Terry Speaks, 42, came near the end of a four-day trial that brought grisly evidence, including photos of dancer Jaren Lockhart's body parts and a witness who suggested her killers had cut tattoos off her body to prevent the identification of her remains.
Dressed in a suit and speaking calmly, Speaks told the jury that many of the witnesses who had implicated him had lied.
"I never killed anybody," he said. "I had nothing to do with this."
But during two hours of cross-examination, Speaks frequently seemed confused by prosecutor Doug Freese's questions and had difficulty recalling answers he had given earlier.
"You can't keep your story straight even for half an hour, can you," Freese demanded, as he peppered Speaks with questions.
Prosecutors say Speaks and his then-girlfriend Margaret Sanchez went to Temptations Gentlemen's Club in New Orleans' French Quarter on June 6, 2012, and offered hundreds of dollars for a dancer who would join them for a private party.
The 22-year-old Lockhart agreed to go with them.
Prosecutors say Speaks and Sanchez drove Lockhart to their home in nearby Kenner, Louisiana, stabbed her to death and cut up her body, then drove to Mississippi and threw her remains off a bridge near the Gulf Coast.
The body parts began washing up on coastal beaches the next day.
A grand jury in 2014 charged Speaks and Sanchez with second-degree murder, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Speaks faces a mandatory life sentence, if convicted.
The state will try Sanchez, 31, separately.
In closing arguments, prosecutor Tommy Block told the jury it is rare to see the defendant in a homicide case testify at his own trial.
Speaks "thinks he is so smart, so slick, so smooth that he can pull the wool over the eyes of a jury," Block said. "What you saw today was an arrogant, selfish man, a liar and a murderer."
The defense did not make a closing argument.
Speaks already is serving an eight-year prison sentence on an unrelated charge of failing to register in Jefferson Parish as a sex offender following a 2003 conviction in North Carolina for having sex with a minor.
(Reporting by Kathy Finn; Editing by Karen Brooks and Eric Beech)