This is a problem that you don’t encounter everyday in court. Matthew Brunelli, 23, is being prosecuted for aggravated-assault for allegedly punching John “Big Red” Huttick so hard in the left eye during a bar fight in August 2011 that the eye had to be surgically removed. Big Red was on the stand tearfully recounting the fight when his glass eye popped out and he caught it in his hand in front of jurors. Common Pleas Judge Robert P. Coleman granted a defense motion for a new trial given the expected prejudice caused by the scene against Brunelli.
The case originated in a confrontation in the New Princeton Tavern in Burholme around 3 am when Brunelli’s girlfriend was being hit on by some men. Two men followed the couple into the parking lot. One notably included off-duty cop Brian Clerkin (it is not clear if Clerkin has been disciplined for his role in this fight). Brunelli is a 6-foot, 200-pound physical trainer knocked Clerkin off his feet and knocked out the other man. Huttick, 48, who once worked at the bar as a bouncer some two years prior, then came outside and intervened.
The defense insists that it has two witnesses who are prepared to testify that it was Huttick who attacked Brunelli who hit Huttick once in self defense after he was kneed in the groin. It also notes that Huttick is 6-3 and 315 pounds — 100 pounds heavier than Brunelli.
Prosecutors insist that Brunelli hit Huttick with some type of sharp object. The involvement of an off-duty police officer raises some obvious concerns about the prosecution of one party in a bar fight.
Brunelli, now a cook, could face 10 to 20 years in state prison. At the time of his arrest, he was on probation for theft and felony drug convictions.
A mistrial seems the only option for the court in such a clearly prejudicial scene. What do you think?