Juneau jury acquits pair charged with assault

Defense attorneys argued serious injuries in the fracas were caused by third party

Posted: Sunday, May 30, 2004

People agree that things got out of control on Front Street in downtown Juneau in the early hours of May 4, 2003.

A Juneau Superior Court jury, though, disagreed last week with state prosecutors, deciding that two Juneau residents weren't responsible for seriously injuring Sam Stracener.

"It was brutal. It was ugly," Stracener said of fracas that sent him to the hospital. "I couldn't eat solid food for six weeks."

The jury Wednesday returned a verdict acquitting Robert MacKinnon and Jeffery Trucano, both 23, of felony second-degree assault charges.

Jurors also came back with not-guilty verdicts on a lesser charge of misdemeanor fourth-degree assault, which they considered after ruling out the felony.

"Sitting there for a week and watching the process was more excruciating than the injury itself," Stracener, 37, said. A little more than a year later, he said he is "mostly healed," adding that he prefers not to talk about the details.

Four months after Stracener went to the hospital, the grand jury indicted three men on charges of second-degree assault. Also indicted was Kenneth Ulery, 36.

In December, Ulery settled his case by agreeing to plead guilty to misdemeanor fourth-degree assault. Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens, who came to Juneau to preside over the recent trial, sentenced Ulery to 30 days in jail - 180 days with 150 days suspended. He also placed him on probation for two years, with a condition that he testify truthfully in further proceedings involving his co-defendants.

Restitution would be divided among the co-defendants at a later date, the order added.

Defense attorneys Thomas Nave, representing Trucano, and Louis Menendez, representing MacKinnon, said they argued that Ulery was to blame for Stracener's serious injuries, the factor that led to the charges of second-degree assault.

"The question was, who caused the serious physical injuries," Nave said. Causing "serious physical injury" is necessary to the charge, he said.

Nave and Menendez said they brought in expert witnesses from California and Minnesota to show that the serious injuries Stracener sustained could have been caused by Ulery hitting him from behind and into the pavement.

Menendez said one witness characterized the blind hit as an NFL tackle, testimony recalled by Stracener as well.

Additionally, the defense attorneys said they argued that their clients were not guilty of misdemeanor assault because MacKinnon viewed his actions as self-defense and Trucano believed he was acting in defense of MacKinnon.

Stracener said he believes he was assaulted by more than one person and that he suffered serious injuries before he was hit from behind.

It started in a downtown bar, he said. MacKinnon and Trucano were involved in a dispute with one of his co-workers. MacKinnon was asked to leave and Trucano went with him.

Stracener said he was only interested in breaking up the fight that ensued down the street. But while no one else suffered more than cuts or bruises, he said he ended up being beaten on the ground. He said he was unconscious and didn't remember parts of it.

Insurance picked up much of the medical bills, but he still had to pay about $3,500 and lost nearly as much in wages, he said.

Stracener said restitution would be nice, but he was hoping for further justice. He said he also was hoping for apologies.

He said Ulery apologized in December, but others involved never told him they were sorry, he said.

Getting in the middle of things that night didn't work out well for him, but he said it wasn't the wrong thing to do. He said that while he was being beaten into the pavement, a bystander came and pulled people off of him.

"If the other fellow didn't help, I'd be dead by now," Stracener said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached

at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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