LOCKPORT – Dennis C. Jeffrey, of Niagara Falls, struck a man in the side of the face with a golf club in a dispute over where to place a downed tree limb, a prosecutor said in his opening statement at Jeffrey’s trial Tuesday.
But defense attorney Robert Viola told the Niagara County Court jury that Jeffrey had the golf club in his left hand but didn’t use it on victim Jesus Portugues. Instead, Viola asserted, Jeffrey punched Portugues with his right hand while keeping the golf club handy in case he was jumped from behind.
“Our position is, there was no dangerous weapon used. He used his fist, and using that fist was justified,” Viola said.
Jeffrey, 50, of Ashland Avenue, is charged with second-degree assault and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon in the incident that occurred at about 11 p.m. July 19, the night a powerful downpour struck Niagara Falls.
Assistant District Attorney Ryan K. Parisi told the jury of six men and six women that Jeffrey, also known as Dennis Townsend, decked Portugues after the latter hauled a heavy tree limb into the parking lot of the Trott Access Center, a county office building in the Falls, where Jeffrey and his girlfriend preferred to park their vehicles.
Parisi said Portugues was cleaning up storm damage on the street when he saw an elderly woman struggling with a heavy tree limb on his lawn. Portugues and a neighbor went to help her and dragged the limb a short distance down the street and dropped it in the municipal parking lot to let the city pick it up.
“Unfortunately for Jesus, one man thought the branch was too close to his vehicle,” Parisi said. Jeffrey came out of his house and got into an argument with Portugues.
The defendant then walked to his car and grabbed a golf club. “He swung that golf club and hit Jesus in the side of the face,” Parisi said. “His laceration was severe. His eye was swollen.”
The prosecutor added that while Portugues was down, Jeffrey told him, “I bet you wish you had moved that branch now, don’t you?”
Parisi said Jeffrey repeated that comment after police, summoned when Portugues’ wife called 911, brought Jeffrey from his home to be identified at the scene. Viola confirmed that Jeffrey said it.
The defense attorney said Jeffrey was concerned because the branch was close to his girlfriend’s recently acquired car, and he wanted to see if there had been any damage to the auto. During the argument with Portugues, Viola said, a second man went behind Jeffrey.
“Dennis is left-handed. He took the club. He didn’t make any effort to conceal it. He wanted it to be seen, Viola said. As the argument with Portugues continued, Jeffrey “hears a rustle behind him. He reached out, one time, hit him. Down he went. With his fist,” Viola emphasized.
After brandishing the golf club at the second man, Viola said Jeffrey went home.
Viola told the jury that Portugues can’t keep his story straight. “There’s been times he said (Jeffrey) hit him with the club, and other times, he told grand jurors, ‘He must have hit me with the club,’” Viola said.