The prime suspect in the 1997 killing of Carolyn Clift admitted on the stand Thursday that he repeatedly lied to investigators about being in her Selah apartment the night she was killed.

Michael O. Gorski, 62, told jurors that he initially lied because he “just wanted to stay out it” and was afraid he’d lose his job as a furniture store salesman if he was named as a suspect in the newspaper.

He said he then felt compelled to stick with his story that he only gave Clift a ride home from a liquor store that night, calling his situation a “Catch-22” if he backtracked on his story.

“I felt like I was locked into sticking with my lie,” he told a Yakima County Superior Court jury, adding that he regretted the decision.

Gorski and co-defendant Frank Brugnone, 59, are on trial for second-degree murder in the death of Clift, 56, who was found brutally stabbed to death in her apartment the night of Aug. 28, 1997.

Although Gorski was questioned early on by detectives, no arrests were made until 2011, when new DNA testing placed him at the scene of the crime.

Brugnone, Gorski’s roommate at the time, was arrested after he made statements that allegedly incriminated both men in Clift’s death. Although he is being tried at the same time, Brugnone’s fate will be decided by trial Judge Ruth Reukauf, not the jury.

But the jury is sitting in judgment of Gorski, and it was to that group that Gorski directly explained his movements and behavior on the night Clift died. Closing arguments are expected this morning.

Under questioning by his defense attorney, John Crowley, Gorski told jurors he was on his way to another woman’s home when he bumped into Clift at a Selah liquor store.

He said he didn’t know Clift and found her “odd” after she asked him his name and then asked him if he worked for the KGB, an apparent reference to the Soviet secret service.

Despite this, he agreed to give her a ride home, he told the jury, then went inside her apartment at the Selah Square Apartments when she asked him in for a drink.

He testified that he was repelled by the messiness of Clift’s tiny apartment, but stayed anyway. He said he left after about 15 minutes when Clift began kissing him.

Describing the situation as “way odd” and “too much for me,” he told the jury he finally “got my bottles (of Bombay gin) and said I’ve got to go.”

Asked directly by his defence attorney if he killed Clift, Gorski said no, that he didn’t know who did and that Brugnone had nothing to do with it, either.

On cross examination, prosecutor Patti Powers sharply questioned Gorski about his story, asking him why he would give Clift a ride home when he didn’t want to, why he would go into her apartment when he didn’t want to, and why he kissed Clift for several minutes when he didn’t want to.

Gorski, who was then 46 and twice divorced, testified that he was simply trying to be nice. “I just didn’t want to be rude,” he said several times.

Powers also questioned Gorski about his eyeglasses, which he accidentally left at the scene but were not identified as his until DNA testing proved it, and about leaving Washington state despite having several outstanding warrants for DUIs and an assault.

Admitting that he lied to investigators even after his arrest in 2011, Gorski insisted he was driven not by fear of being identified as the prime suspect but the problems it would cause him in his personal life.

Asked point-blank by Powers if it was true that he killed Clift, Gorski denied it.

“No, ma’am, it’s not,” he said twice.

• Chris Bristol can be reached at 509-577-7748 or cbristol@yakimaherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ChrisJBristol.