Saturday July 28, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The fate of two Pittsfield men accused of attacking people during a July 2010 brawl involving neighbors is in the hands of a Berkshire Superior Court jury.

The jury deliberated for about four hours on Friday and will be back at it on Monday morning.

Attorneys for John H. Tart, 35, and Stephen C. Abriel, 27, gave their final summations to the jury Friday morning, focusing on issues of identity, while the prosecution relied on a 911 tape that vividly described the scene as it unfolded and which the District Attorney’s Office said backed its version of events.

On the night of July 4, 2010, a massive fight involving between 50 and 90 people attending two separate parties, one at 370 Cloverdale St., the home of Anne Wellington and her fiancé James Grant, and another at 395 Cloverdale St., where Jesse Tart -- John’s brother -- lived.

By the end of the melee, police had arrested the Tart brothers and Abriel.

Jesse Tart, 38, took a plea deal on Monday just before trial, admitting to drug and weapons charges. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail and five years of probation.

Prosecutors said Abriel punched Wellington in the face and used a stun gun on several other partygoers, charges he has adamantly denied and which he reiterated from the stand on Thursday.

Tart has pleaded not guilty to a single count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon for allegedly attacking someone with a sledgehammer.

On Friday, Abriel’s attorney, William A. Rota, told the jury that while he agreed there had been a brawl that night, it was not a fight in which people from the Tart party were the aggressors and those at the Grant party "innocent, cowering people," but rather both groups gave as much as they got.

"Nobody was running away," he told the jury.

Rota then launched into what he said were issues of identity involving his client.

Not only were there defense witnesses who said they couldn’t identify the person who Tased them, said the attorney, many said Abriel "wasn’t the guy."

He said there was a consistent description of the man with the Taser as having a buzz cut, while Abriel had shoulder-length hair and was wearing a baseball cap.

Rota showed his client’s booking photo to the jury and proclaimed: "Look, he has hat hair" from wearing a baseball cap.

As for the testimony of the two people who identified Abriel as the person with the Taser, Rota said neither witness was believable.

In both cases, the witnesses identified Abriel by his shirt -- a black T-shirt with the DC shoe company logo, said the lawyer, adding "the shirt is not on trial."

Rota said Grant, the prosecution’s "star witness," was admittedly so drunk at the time of the brawl that he told someone with a gun to shoot him.

"How drunk do you have to be to do that?" the lawyer asked the jury.

John Tart’s attorney, Tim othy M. Farris, told the jury the prosecution’s job was to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his client attacked someone with a sledgehammer during the fight.

"It was not even close," he said of their case.

Like Rota, Farris focused on identity, pointing out the lack of people who were able to identify his client as being the person wielding a sledgehammer during the melee.

Farris also discussed Grant’s testimony, arguing that Grant had issues with both Tart brothers, was an unreliable witness and had a motive to lie.

Farris then mentioned a 911 tape that was played earlier in which Grant is heard cursing and threatening several people. During the tape, Grant is heard describing to the dispatcher that the man he believes is John Tart -- but is in actuality Jesse Tart -- had at different points, a gun, a larger gun, a Taser and a sledgehammer.

Farris told the jury that his client never had a gun, Taser or sledgehammer.

While the sledgehammer the DA’s office says was used in the attack was presented at trial, Farris said, no forensic evidence linking it to the attack or his client was ever offered. 

Assistant District Attorney Joseph A. Pieropan said the 911 tape was the best evidence of the identity of both Abriel and John Tart as being the people who committed the charged crimes.

In the tape Wellington is heard telling Grant that a man in a "DC" shirt had punched her.

Pieropan said that while there may have been other people in black T-shirts that night, Abriel was the only one with that shirt.

According to Pieropan, Grant and Wellington were believable witnesses. Both identified the defendants from the stand.

Pieropan dismissed Grant’s misidentifying the Tart brothers, telling the jury that Grant had mistaken John and Jesse’s names for years and only learned of the mistake after the brawl.

"Judge [the case] by the facts," Pieropan told the jury.