An Iraq War veteran charged with assault and attempted murder was acquitted Friday by a State Supreme Court jury in a case that involved uninvited party guests, a punch in the nose and a gun that was never found.
James Matthews, 25, had been hosting a birthday party Nov. 29 for his wife at their home on Marion Street when a girlfriend of his wife told several people she knew about the gathering. Matthews and his wife only allowed in three of the party crashers and witnesses testified in the weeklong trial that, while the newcomers were drinking heavily, it was a largely congenial atmosphere.
In the early-morning hours, however, one of the “extra” guests and Matthews argued, and Matthews allegedly punched the man in the nose. The injured man’s friends regrouped outside and went back in 20 minutes later to confront Matthews. That’s when a gun went off and one man was hit in the face by a bullet, which he spit out onto the floor before being taken outside.
One of the witnesses testified that he called 911, but then left the scene because he didn’t want to talk to police.
Matthews testified he never had a weapon and when he saw a flash near his doorway he mistook it for a cellphone camera. No gun was ever recovered.
In his client’s defense, attorney Sabatino C. Santarpia had Matthews outline his military record, which included four years of active duty and four more years of inactive service following his discharge.
Matthews said he had extensive weapons training and was even an instructor himself; he also was part of a military protection detail for high level officers while serving in Baghdad.
The jury took only an hour to find the defendant not guilty.