Abriel defends self on stand during brawl trial

Friday July 27, 2012

This article has been updated to reflect that Shane Street was knocked to the ground, a reference in the 13th paragraph. The Eagle had misidentified Street in an earlier version of this article.

PITTSFIELD -- One of the defendants charged in a Fourth of July brawl between neighboring partygoers took the stand Thursday to deny Tasing anyone or punching a woman in the face.

Stephen C. Abriel told a Berkshire Superior Court jury that while he did launch himself into a crowd of people in order to help his friends, he never had any weapons and never punched Anne Wellington, a 42-year-old woman who was throwing a holiday party down the road from a get-together Abriel had been attending.

This was the third day of testimony in the trial of Abriel, 27, and his co-defendant, 35-year-old John H. Tart, both of Pittsfield, who are accused of assault and battery at a brawl in 2010.

According to trial testimony, a massive fight involving 50 to 90 people broke out in Pittsfield at about 10:30 p.m. on July 4, 2010. The fight was between people attending two separate parties, one at 370 Cloverdale St., the home of Wellington and her fiancé James Grant, and another at 395 Cloverdale St., where Jesse Tart -- John's brother -- lived. The scene was described by many as chaotic.

Jesse Tart, 38, took a plea deal on Monday just before trial and received an 18-month jail sentence followed by five years of probation after admitting to drug and weapons charges.

Abriel has denied four counts of assault and battery with a stun gun, possession of a stun gun and assault and battery.

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

Some alleged the fight started when people from the Tart party driving four-wheelers began kicking up gravel, which hit several vehicles in front of the Grant residence.

Abriel said the fight started when people from the Grant party threw two bottles in the direction of the Tart residence.

Abriel's story was backed up by another witness brought to the stand by his attorney, William A. Rota, during Thursday's proceedings.

Scott McKeen, 27, called the bottle-throwing "the spark that lit the can of gas," during cross-examination by Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Rachael Eramo.

Both McKeen and Abriel said that they witnessed Wellington get punched by a blond woman neither man knew and that someone -- not Abriel -- had a stun gun, but that they didn't see who it was. No Taser was ever recovered by police.

Abriel admitted he ran into a large crowd of people who were scuffling, knocking Shane Street to the ground. Abriel said after being punched in the back of the head he left the area with McKeen and headed back to Jesse Tart's house.

Abriel denied seeing anyone with a sledgehammer or a gun and didn't hear any gunshots. Jesse Tart admitted to firing off a handgun during the fracas.

John Tart did not take the stand Thursday.

Timothy M. Farris, John Tart's attorney, has denied his client ever had a hammer and pointed out inconsistent statements by prosecution witnesses regarding the identity of the person wielding a hammer that night. He also focused on testimony from several people who denied seeing anyone with a sledgehammer during the melee.

Both the prosecution and defense rested their cases on Thursday.

Final summations are sched uled for today, and the jury is expected to begin deliberations.


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