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.
Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune
At the Courage Center in Golden Valley, Ray Widstrand, right, pictured October 8, 2013, is recovering from a near fatal attack in August, which landed him in intensive care. Part of his cranium was removed to alleviate pressure from swelling. His sister, Alice, visits him almost daily.
Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune
Nov. 8, 2013: Suspect in East Side beating found not guilty on all counts
- Article by: Chao Xiong
- Star Tribune
- November 8, 2013 - 10:48 PM
Jurors acquitted Issac O. Maiden Friday of all charges in this summer’s brutal attack on Ray Widstrand, a St. Paul man who requires 24-hour care due to the injuries he sustained.
The not guilty verdicts were returned after about four hours of deliberations. Juror Tom Paulson said that there were too many holes and that witness testimony was “very confusing.” The jury acquitted Maiden of first-degree assault, first-degree aggravated robbery and two counts of a crime committed for the benefit of a gang.
“We just thought there wasn’t enough proof,” Paulson said. “A lot of [jurors] felt [witnesses] were covering for themselves.”
Maiden’s attorney, Bruce Wenger, said that Maiden would be released from jail and be home by Friday evening.
“I’m thrilled,” Wenger said.
Maiden, 19, is the first of five teens charged in the Aug. 4 attack to stand trial.
In their closing arguments Friday morning, Assistant Ramsey County Attorney David Miller and Wenger each tried to raise doubt about a number of witnesses. Miller said that gang violence could have caused some witnesses to be evasive in court.
Several witnesses testified that they and Maiden have ties to or are familiar with a number of St. Paul gangs with violent reputations.
Witnesses and a St. Paul police gang investigator testified that members of the Gutta Block, HAM Crazy, Get Money Gang and East Side Boyz gangs were present when Widstrand was attacked about 11:30 p.m. at Minnehaha Avenue and Preble Street. Several of those gangs are responsible for multiple murders of teens on the East Side, including the July murder of Vincent “Mo” Allison, 17.
Allison’s cousin, Treheem Smith, testified at Maiden’s trial. Miller told jurors Friday morning that Smith told police in an Aug. 5 interview that East Side Boyz gang members attacked Widstrand, but that he then refused to discuss gang involvement in court.
Wenger said he didn’t think intimidation was a factor in his client’s case and that it was a “red herring.” Several witnesses not only contradicted each other about Maiden’s actions that night, but also the actions of Cindarion D. Butler, 17. Butler is charged as an adult in the case and has yet to stand trial.
Juror noticed intimidation
The impact of intimidation was apparent to jurors, said Paulson, who detected it in witnesses’ quiet voices and changing accounts of that night.
“I think [intimidation] was a huge factor,” Paulson said. “[Witnesses] were scared to talk, and I don’t blame them.”
Despite that, Paulson said he believed Maiden wasn’t involved in the attack because there was no physical evidence connecting him. Police Sgt. Sheila Lambie testified that Widstrand’s DNA and presumptive blood were found on Butler’s shoes and pants, but not on Maiden’s clothing.
Maiden testified that he was sprayed in the eyes with a chemical irritant and fled before Widstrand arrived. About 40 to 50 teens who had been at a nearby house party were watching girls fighting when people started spraying a chemical irritant to disperse the crowd, witnesses testified.
But photos taken from a cellphone video of the fights showed Maiden up close with no irritation. It was captured just before Widstrand arrived, Miller said. Wenger argued that a lot could have happened in that window of time.
Witnesses have testified that anywhere from four to 15 people punched, kicked and stomped on Widstrand for 30 seconds to 10 minutes.
After the verdicts were read, District Court Judge Salvador Rosas issued Maiden a stern warning to clean up his act and re-evaluate his life and friends.
“Mr. Maiden, a friendly word of advice,” Rosas said. “You dodged one here.” Rosas said that if Maiden didn’t change his life, “I have no doubt you’ll be back.”
Mother at trial every day
Widstrand’s parents declined to comment. Maiden’s mother attended each day of the trial and previously declined to comment.
“While we are disappointed with the jury’s verdict, we will respect it and move forward to the remaining cases,” Ramsey County Attorney spokesman Dennis Gerhardstein said in a written statement. “We remain committed to holding accountable those who were involved in the senseless beating of Ray Widstrand.”
One 15-year-old pleaded guilty in the attack and is serving time. Two other juveniles are charged and have open cases. Butler has a pretrial date later this month.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708
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