A jury found Cindarion D. Butler guilty Tuesday night of aiding and abetting first-degree assault and first-degree robbery in last year’s near-fatal attack on Ray Widstrand on St. Paul’s East Side.
The jury of five women and seven men acquitted Butler of two counts of crime committed for the benefit of a gang but also found that there were aggravating factors — that Widstrand was particularly vulnerable and that Butler acted in concert with three or more assailants. Butler could face about seven to 10 years in prison, but the aggravating factors allow prosecutors to seek twice that amount when he is sentenced on March 25.
For the Widstrands, who found their son at the center of one of the most savage and high-profile crimes recently in the Twin Cities, the conviction brought relief after months of worry and disappointment when another suspect was tried and acquitted last year.
“It just picks up our spirits, and we keep fighting,” his mother, Linda Widstrand. said Tuesday night after the verdict. “It really does wonders.”
Jurors began deliberating at 4 p.m. and reached their verdicts just before 8:30 p.m. Linda Widstrand said her son was in bed when they received the news.
“I told him, and he was really, really happy,” she said. “I’m just glad justice was done for Ray.”
Issac O. Maiden, 19, was tried in November in the attack and was acquitted on all counts, partly due to the confusing and contradicting testimony of several teenage witnesses. That dealt a blow to the Widstrands, who were — and are still — dealing with major hurdles in Widstrand’s recovery.
Widstrand, 27, was jumped on, kicked and punched on St. Paul’s East Side on Aug. 4. He suffered a traumatic brain injury that left him with physical and mental disabilities.
Dozens of teens were at a party on Preble Street near E. Minnehaha Avenue that night and spilled out onto the street to watch three fights between girls. Widstrand, who lived nearby, walked into the melee and was attacked when he stopped to help a girl off the ground about 11:30 p.m.
“Tonight’s verdict is a small measure of justice for the victim who was brutally beaten and left for dead on the streets of St. Paul’s East Side,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said in a statement.
Although authorities have said about 50 teens were at the party and many witnessed the attack, few reliable accounts have surfaced and many of the 10 to 12 alleged attackers have never been charged.
In addition to Butler and Maiden, one juvenile pleaded guilty in the assault. Another juvenile is charged and has an adult certification hearing Wednesday. The case against a third juvenile was dismissed.
The case remains open, and Linda Widstrand knows her family’s ordeal is far from over. That’s why Butler’s convictions mean so much.
“It wears on you,” Linda Widstrand said. “These trials wear on you. Every day it feels like a truck runs you over.”
Tuesday afternoon, Ray Widstrand looked on quietly as a photo of him splayed nearly lifeless in the street, stripped down to his underwear, was shown to the jury on a large projection screen.
It was the first time that Widstrand had seen photos of what happened in an attack that galvanized the city. Widstrand, who has no memory of that night, sat in the front row as Assistant Ramsey County Attorney David Miller and defense attorney Christopher Zipko delivered closing arguments.
“It was weird just seeing me on the ground covered in blood in front of my old apartment,” Widstrand said afterward. “It was very weird for me.
“I just hope that justice is served,” Widstrand said.
In his closing arguments, Miller reminded the jury that eyewitness Doneesha Richards testified that Butler rifled through Widstrand’s pockets and then pulled off his shorts. Miller told jurors that blood spatter found on Butler’s shoes and shorts prove that he participated in the attack.
Zipko told jurors that the blood on Butler’s clothing only shows he was close to the fight and that one witness said Butler was not involved.
As he left the courthouse Tuesday afternoon, Ray Widstrand thanked his family, his co-workers and the community for their support. He walked with a noticeable limp and had a wheelchair on hand but cracked a joke.
“There’s some positive things you can glean from every situation, so I’m happy,” Widstrand said. “There’s a lot of good people, too, willing to come to help you when you’re knocked down. I’ve never been so down in my adult life, but luckily there are people there to help me back up.”