Jurors convicted a St. Paul man of jabbing his fingers into the eye of a bystander at a New Year’s Eve celebration, permanently blinding the victim in one eye.
Kinseth C. Sorlien, 34, was convicted Thursday in Ramsey County District Court of one count of first-degree assault for the Jan. 1 incident at Governors Food and Drink on St. Paul’s East Side.
His victim, Kent Gunter, 52, of Maplewood, had to have his left eye removed and now wears a prosthetic.
At trial, Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Lawrence Schultz said that Sorlien wanted to go home, but was delayed by his mother, who stopped to chat with Gunter.
An impatient and irritated Sorlien smacked the back of Gunter’s head, and later, jabbed him in the eye about 1:15 a.m. when Gunter admonished him for the smack, Schultz told jurors.
Sorlien’s attorney, Eric Nelson, told jurors that Sorlien was trying to catch his mother as she fell, and accidentally caught Gunter’s eye.
The case was complicated by the fact that nearly all of the witnesses had been drinking that night, and because there was no surveillance video footage to corroborate either account of the assault.
Sorlien testified on his own behalf Thursday, contributing to the confusion by saying that he did not make contact with Gunter when Gunter’s eye was injured, and then later testifying that he accidentally caused the injury.
Sorlien testified under direct questioning by Nelson that he placed his open hand on the back of Gunter’s head to wish him a Happy New Year. Sorlien demonstrated on Nelson, placing his hand gently on the back of Nelson’s head.
Gunter testified earlier in the week that Sorlien delivered a “good, hard” smack to his head.
Sorlien testified that he and his fiancée were at the door ready to leave as his mother lingered next to Gunter. Sorlien said he went to retrieve his mother when Gunter stepped toward him.
Gunter said something, but Sorlien testified that he couldn’t hear, so he reached out with one arm.
Sorlien said that’s when his mother, who had been drinking, started to fall back into his midsection, causing them both to fall to the ground. Sorlien said he then heard Gunter screaming behind him. He testified that he left the bar with his mother and fiancée, and was stopped outside by police.
Sorlien said that when police questioned him, he told them he couldn’t be sure that he had assaulted Gunter.
“I was confused,” he said. “I was afraid, because I didn’t know what happened.”
Under cross-examination by Schultz, Sorlien testified that he had no physical contact with Gunter after the head grab.
“So you didn’t cause the injury to his eye?” Schultz asked.
“I can’t say that I did,” Sorlien said.
“Did you have physical contact with Mr. Gunter?” Schultz asked.
“No,” Sorlien said.
The line of questions and answers grew confusing, prompting Nelson to later recall Sorlien to the witness stand.
“To your knowledge, did you make any physical contact with Mr. Gunter and his eye?” Nelson asked.
“Yes,” Sorlien said.
“How did that happen?” Nelson asked.
“By accident,” Sorlien said.
Sorlien is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 21.