Ray Widstrand was left for dead on the streets of St. Paul two summers ago, unconscious and stripped to his underwear, with blood pooling under his nearly lifeless body as the mob of teenagers who attacked him fled into the August night.
Twenty-one months later, still scarred from the beating, Widstrand limped into a Ramsey County courtroom Friday without the aid of a cane or a brace to face Charles K. Redding, 17, who sparked the brutal attack by throwing the first punch.
"My life has changed dramatically," said Widstrand, 28, who suffers permanent physical and mental damage. "I've lost a great deal."
Minutes later, Judge Salvador Rosas sentenced Redding, who was 15 at the time of the assault but certified to stand trial as an adult, to a maximum of 8 ⅓ years in prison for the Aug. 4, 2013, attack on the East Side.
Redding's case was the last of five to be resolved. "It's a relief, obviously, that the trials are over," Widstrand said afterward.
The attack shocked the community for its senselessness, and when Redding was given an opportunity to speak Friday, he provided no further insight into why it happened.
He pleaded guilty in March to aiding and abetting first-degree assault, and he said at the time that he punched Widstrand for "no reason." Dismissed were two counts of crime committed for the benefit of a gang and one count of aiding and abetting first-degree aggravated robbery.
While Redding apologized Friday to the Widstrand family and to his own mother, Rosas wasn't convinced, saying, "I know you're nervous. I know you're young, but there's no feeling behind the words."
The night of the attack, about 40 teenagers spilled out of a house party on Preble Street near Minnehaha Avenue. The group watched as girls fought in the street.
Widstrand lived nearby and stopped to help a young woman off the ground when he was knocked out by a punch from Redding and set upon by several young men. They kicked and stomped on him and stripped off his shorts.
Widstrand, 26 at the time, suffered a skull fracture and underwent five surgeries.
Besides Redding, one teen charged in the case was acquitted at trial, another was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison, a juvenile pleaded guilty and one case was dismissed.
Authorities believe that more people attacked Widstrand, but they have said that they've charged everyone they believe they can convict.
A culture of gang violence undermined the investigation from the beginning. Several witnesses testified in the co-defendants' trials that they had ties to or were familiar with St. Paul gangs known for using intimidation and lethal force to settle scores.
Witnesses gave conflicting information in court, and a key witness testified in one trial and then fled the state during a second trial.
"I don't know if there's any true justice," Widstrand's father, Peter Widstrand, said Friday after Redding was sentenced.
'Anger inside of him'
Redding's attorney, Bethany O'Neill, argued for a sentence at the low end of the guidelines — about six years. She said that Redding's developing teenage brain led to his "impulsive, non-premeditated" act.
"He wants to pay the price for the conduct in this case, and then move forward," O'Neill said.
Assistant County Attorney David Miller argued for the maximum time, noting that Redding's juvenile record includes previous violent acts.
"It's clear that Mr. Redding has an anger inside of him, and it's very concerning and dangerous," Miller said.
Widstrand and his father read victim-impact statements before Redding was sentenced.
Peter Widstrand said his son has limited movement and strength in the right side of his body, suffers severe headaches and had asked for his help to commit suicide.
"It's heartbreaking to think about what he's lost," Peter Widstrand said.
Ray Widstrand confirmed that he struggled with depression before the attack and that the brain injury has made it worse and led to suicidal thoughts.
"I'm making small steps," he said. "I'm walking. I'm driving, working part-time, talking, eating, drinking — come a long way in just a couple of years."
Widstrand lives with his parents in New Brighton and hopes to live on his own again someday. He has a restricted driver's license, works four hours a day at his old job at a public-access TV station and wants to build up strength to work eight hours a day by fall.
Widstrand walked Friday without the aid of a cane or foot brace, which he still uses on occasion, to challenge himself to build strength and independence.
"I still have a cane — several canes, actually," he said with a smile. "Sometimes I like it for the extra stability — the fashion."