CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Nicole Holder testified Tuesday that she was terrified during a late-night struggle in May with her then-boyfriend Greg Hardy, a powerful defensive end for the Panthers who she said choked her in a jealous rage in his uptown condo.
"He looked me in my eyes and he told me he was going to kill me," said Holder, 24, an EpiCentre nightclub waitress who used to live with Hardy.
"I was so scared I wanted to die. When he loosened his grip slightly, I said just, 'Do it. Kill me.'"
Holder's testimony came on the first day of Hardy's trial on misdemeanor charges of communicating threats and assaulting a female stemming from the May 13 confrontation. Hardy pleaded not guilty. Also testifying Tuesday were Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers who were called to Hardy's North Tryon Street condo and a house guest who said she was awakened by the violent struggle.
Earlier, Holder, 24, said she met Hardy nearly two years ago when he dated her then-roommate. She said she began dating Hardy last September.
Their live-in relationship was good as late as January when she accompanied him to Hawaii, where he played in the NFL Pro Bowl. She had expected to fly with him to the Super Bowl in New York, she said, but things changed. At the airport in Hawaii, she found that he had changed her ticket and made the destination Charlotte.
Holder said Hardy had become more controlling over time, and their relationship soured after she had moved in with him. She said Hardy "cheated" on her many times. But, she said, even after the Super Bowl, they were still working on their relationship.
The defense began its case around 5 p.m. Tuesday. A security guard at the EpiCentre testified that Holder was ranting and raving as she followed Hardy out of the EpiCentre two nights before the alleged assault
Laura Iwanicki, a friend of Holder's, said that the Holder-Hardy relationship was "either really good or really bad." She said she was with Holder in Hardy's apartment the night of the alleged assault and that Holder told her, "(Hardy) hasn't seen crazy yet."
Holder testified that on the night of the confrontation, they went to the luxury Charlotte nightclub Bubble ï¿½ which caters to VIPs ï¿½ at the EpiCentre. Hardy spent more than $2,000, she said.
She said he grew agitated at her there and, "to top everything off, a Nelly song came on." She had earlier told police that Hardy was upset with her because of a short-term relationship she had with Nelly, a rapper, at a time when she and Hardy had broken up.
After going to the condo, Hardy began hurling insults at her, calling her a whore and a slut, Holder testified, then backhanded her into a wall. She said he slammed her onto a sofa strewn with firearms, and then choked her.
When he loosened his grip, Holder said, she struck him in the temple with her shoe. Sammy Curtis, a friend of Hardy's, came in and tackled her, she said.
Chris Fialko, Hardy's attorney tore into Holder on the stand, saying she attacked Hardy in a cocaine and alcohol-fury the night of the incident. Holder admitted Tuesday to using cocaine the night of the alleged attack. Fialko asked Holder repeatedly if her accusations were true, why she was not more badly injured. And he asked if she feared for her life, why she didn't pick up and use a gun.
"I wouldn't know how to use it," she said.
Holder said she heard Hardy call 911 while Curtis had his hand over her mouth. Holder testified that she thought she was going to jail for something she didn't do. Holder said she didn't make a statement to police when they arrived because she was scared and she said she told officers she'd fallen down the stairs.
Christina Lawrence, who was in the condo when during the confrontation, testified that she'd been drinking shots earlier at Hardy's. She said she met Hardy and friends a day earlier and had not previously met Holder.
Lawrence said she saw two guns against the window and a few on the bar. "Me and my girlfriend were like, why so many?" Lawrence said.
Lawrence said she was sleeping in a front bedroom and heard arguing, scuffling and someone being slammed into a wall. She said she heard someone say: "What are you going to do, break my arm?"
She said she did not see an assault take place, but became frightened and left the apartment. She said she persuaded a security guard at Hardy's building to call police.
Police officer Christopher Martin, who responded to the call, testified that Holder appeared upset and initially didn't want to talk to police. Martin said Holder told police that Hardy was upset about her relationship with Nelly.
Martin said Hardy's face had been scraped. Three photos of Hardy, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 290 pounds, were entered into evidence that show a rash on his inner forearm and a scratch under his cheekbone.
Officer Abraham Kim took photos of Holder showing redness to her chest and neck, scratches and bruises to her arm, elbow and back.
Holder has accused Hardy of throwing her to the floor and into a bathtub, strangling her, slamming her into a futon that was covered with guns, and threatening to shoot her if she told anyone about the fight. At Hardy's bond hearing in May, his attorney, Fialko, said it was Holder who attacked Hardy.
Hardy's attorney noted that police found no guns the evening of the altercation, but Martin said that "in 45 minutes they could have cleaned. We can go scenarios all day long." Complying with a court order in May, Hardy had turned over 10 guns, including at least six military-type, semi-automatic rifles and three 12-gauge shotguns.
Hardy could face up to 60 days in jail if convicted of the domestic violence charge. District Judge Becky Thorne Tin is presiding over the bench trial. If Hardy is found guilty, he would have the right to appeal for a jury trial.
Panthers and NFL officials have said they would wait until the legal process has taken its course before deciding on any possible punishment for Hardy.
The Panthers placed the franchise tag on Hardy this year after he tied Kevin Greene's single-season team record with 15 sacks in 2013. Hardy is guaranteed $13.1 million this year under the tag.
Tuesday afternoon was the deadline for the Panthers to sign Hardy to a long-term deal, although there have been no indications the team plans to do so.