St. Paul beating-trial jury must sift through conflicting stories

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 7, 2013 - 9:53 PM

Closing arguments are today in the summer street attack that left a St. Paul man profoundly injured.

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A memorial is set up, August 12, 2013, in the area of the Payne-Phalen neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota, where a brutal beating left a man with brain damage.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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Issac O. Maiden testified Thursday that he wasn’t involved in the brutal attack on Ray Widstrand, contradicting a witness and adding to the confusing, conflicting accounts that jurors will have to sift through when they begin deliberations Friday.

Maiden and several witnesses in his trial have relayed stories that diverged on key points, highlighting the trial’s challenges and the credibility of several witnesses, many of whom said they have ties to or are familiar with St. Paul gangs known for using fear, intimidation and retaliation. Some of the gangs are responsible for a string of murders that have claimed several teens.

Maiden, 19, is the first of five teens charged in the Aug. 4 attack on Widstrand to stand trial. He is charged in Ramsey County District Court on charges of first-degree assault, first-degree aggravated robbery and two counts of a crime committed for the benefit of a gang.

“I never touched anybody,” said Maiden, dressed in a button shirt, tie and slacks. “I was Maced before he probably entered the area.”

Knocked out with a punch

Widstrand, 27, was knocked unconscious with one punch about 11:30 p.m. on E. Minnehaha Avenue at Preble Street when he stopped to help a girl on the ground in the middle of a crowd of youths. Witnesses said as many as 12 or more teens kicked him, jumped on him and stripped off his shorts as dozens watched.

Widstrand suffered a “catastrophic” brain injury, his neurosurgeon, Dr. Matthew Kang, testified Thursday. Doctors initially thought Widstrand might die, but he survived and now receives round-the-clock care, uses a wheelchair and has trouble speaking and using his limbs.

Maiden testified that he was sprayed with an irritant when someone tried to break up some girls fighting on Preble just south of Minnehaha Avenue. About 40 to 50 teens who had been at a house party were watching the fights.

Maiden said he couldn’t see and fled west toward Edgerton Street with the aid of some girls in the opposite direction of where Widstrand was attacked.

Maiden testified that he did not see Widstrand walk into the crowd and learned of the attack only when police came to his home the next morning.

“I ran, and then I ended up going home,” Maiden said.

“You ran?” Assistant Ramsey County Attorney David Miller asked.

“Yes,” Maiden said. “I ran from the scene.”

“You ran from a scene where you didn’t know a man had been assaulted, that’s your testimony?” Miller said.

“Yes,” Maiden said.

Defense witness Delicia Myrick testified Thursday that she saw Maiden suffering from an irritant and walking away from where Widstrand was attacked.

Under cross-examination by Miller, Myrick testified that she is the hairdresser for Maiden’s mother, who has diligently attended every day of the trial. Miller and Maiden’s attorney, Bruce Wenger, have tried to raise doubts about the credibility of witnesses in the case.

Boy, 15, admitted guilt

Wenger called a 15-year-old witness who pleaded guilty in the attack on Widstrand. The teen testified that he kicked Widstrand twice and went through his shorts. The teen also said that Maiden did not attack Widstrand.

The teen’s testimony conflicted with testimony by prosecution witness Vershon Hodges, 16, who said Thursday that he saw Maiden kick Widstrand.

Hodges is not charged in the case but acknowledged under cross-examination by Wenger that he has an attorney because of concerns that he could be investigated in the attack.

Under cross-examination by Miller, the 15-year-old said he used to be involved with the Get Money Gang, or GMG, and joined the attack on Widstrand for no particular reason.

“You’re saying you were by yourself, and you just thought it would be a good idea to jump on this man?” Miller asked.

“Yeah,” the teen said.

The teen said he was under the influence of marijuana, which he had smoked all day.

Changed her testimony

On Wednesday an acquaintance of Maiden’s, Lisa Crockett, first testified that she didn’t see Maiden during the attack because he had fled down Preble Street due to a chemical irritant. But when Miller pressed her, she changed her story and said that Maiden was about 10 feet away when Widstrand was attacked and did not appear to suffer from any chemical irritants.

Cindarion D. Butler, 17, and two other juveniles are also charged in the case.

Closing arguments in Maiden’s trial are scheduled for Friday morning. The jury will be sequestered for deliberations.

 

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708

Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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