A Stillwater man backed away from his claim of self-defense and admitted Monday that, during an altercation over a spilled drink, he punched a Bayport man, who later died of head injuries.

Eric Kaprice Richard II, 23, in a brief appearance in Washington County District Court, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of first-degree assault that caused great bodily harm to Adam D. McCloud in the incident at Smalley's Caribbean Barbeque and Pirate Bar in Stillwater on Sept. 28, 2012.

Prosecutors will ask for a sentence of seven years and two months in prison, said Fred Fink, the county's chief criminal division chief.

McCloud's brother-in-law, Larry Odebrecht, said: "The core message we're trying to get across to people is think before you hit somebody. … This kid throws a couple of punches I would imagine not trying to end this where it did. Now he's going to pay with seven years or so. There's a lot of tragedy to go around today. It was an impulsive, stupid act."

Initially, Richard was charged with manslaughter and second-degree murder without intent because McCloud suffered skull fractures and intracranial bleeding in the attack.

Later, McCloud fell out of bed at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, striking his head on the floor, and he died soon afterward after a series of strokes.

"Ultimately, the medical examiner couldn't determine whether he died as a result of the beating in the bar," said Fink.

But evidence of the assault was indisputable because of the security video at the bar that showed Richard throwing punches, Fink said.

Defense attorney Krista Marks reviewed the circumstances of the fight, captured on the video. "Some pushing happened?" she asked Richard. "You intentionally hit him, is that right?" Richard agreed.

The alcohol-fueled altercation began when McCloud, 29, pushed Richard. Prosecutor Karin McCarthy said that as people tried to drag McCloud away, Richard punched him at least twice and McCloud fell, suffering a traumatic brain injury.

"I think we're all glad that he's starting to accept responsibility for what he did," Odebrecht said. "I think he's aware of the fact that what he did caused Adam's death."

Sentencing is set sentencing for Dec. 10. Richard remains free on bail.

Odebrecht said he feels bad for Richard's family. "His mother is going to lose her son for a few years he's in prison," he said.

And McCloud's family remains heartbroken.

"My kids are 10, 8 and 4, and they all love Adam with all their hearts," Odebrecht said. "He was this big gregarious guy who had these freakishly long arms that he would just throw around my kids. He was this joyful guy. It's hateful that it ended this way all because of a $4 drink.

"It's very Shakespearean. Everybody loses in the end."