Ramsey County prosecutors’ second attempt to convict a suspect in the brutal beating of Ray Widstrand last summer ran into some challenges Wednesday on the first day of testimony in the trial of Cindarion D. Butler.
But the afternoon ended with one witness pointing a finger at Butler and identifying him as one of the teens involved in the August melee on St. Paul’s East Side that left Widstrand critically injured with skull fractures.
“Can you describe what you saw him doing?” asked Assistant Ramsey County Attorney David Miller.
“Pulling [Widstrand’s] shorts down,” testified witness Doneesha Richards.
Richards said that she remembered Butler “clearly” from that night because he had asked her to dance at a party before the attack. She said she did not see him physically assault Widstrand.
Butler, 17, is charged with first-degree assault, first-degree aggravated robbery and two counts of committing crimes for the benefit of a gang in the Aug. 4 attack on Widstrand, 27, who grew up in New Brighton and lived near the scene.
About 50 teens were at a party on Preble Street near E. Minnehaha Avenue that night when they spilled out onto the streets to watch three fights between girls. Widstrand walked into the melee and was punched, kicked and jumped on when he stopped to help a girl off the ground about 11:30 p.m.
Richards’ testimony Wednesday afternoon was in contrast to earlier testimony from India Woods, who contradicted statements she made to police two days after the attack. Woods’ testimony fed into one of defense attorney Christopher Zipko’s key issues with the case against his client.
“The eyewitnesses are not consistent,” Zipko told jurors.
Woods’ contradictions mirror the conflicting and confusing testimony of witnesses at the related November trial of Issac O. Maiden, the first suspect to stand trial in the attack. A juror in the Maiden trial said testimony from several teens was “very confusing” and contributed to an acquittal on all charges against Maiden.
Zipko and Miller both told jurors that teens were drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana at the party, where girls were charged $1 and boys $2.
But under cross-examination by Zipko, Woods denied that she told police alcohol was present and that people were drunk. She said she was at the party and fought a girl.
“You told Sgt. [Sheila] Lambie there was alcohol at the party?” Zipko asked.
“No,” Woods said.
“So if Sgt. Lambie has that in her report, it’s wrong?” Zipko asked.
“Yeah,” Woods said.
Zipko pressed her, prompting Miller to object that the questions were argumentative. The objections were sustained by Ramsey County District Judge Joanne Smith.
It’s unclear whether Miller plans to call some of the conflicting witnesses from Maiden’s trial. He has one advantage in Butler’s trial: DNA.
There was no DNA evidence in Maiden’s case, but Miller told jurors that tests conducted by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension will show that suspected blood on Butler’s shoes and shorts matches Widstrand’s DNA.
Video taken from a Metro Transit bus the night of the attack also shows Butler sitting near girls who notice the blood on his shoes, Miller said.
“That’s a mixture of Ray Widstrand … and other biological material consistent with Cindarion Butler,” Miller said.
Zipko told jurors that Butler never touched Widstrand, and that witnesses also had blood on their clothes. He urged jurors to consider that knowing gang members doesn’t equate to being one or committing a crime for one.
Authorities have said that people with alleged ties to the East Side Boyz gang and its cliques, such as Gutta Block, HAM Crazy and Get Money Gang, were present at the attack.
Widstrand’s head injuries were so severe that authorities thought he might die. He survived with serious physical and mental disabilities.
In addition to Butler and Maiden, one juvenile has pleaded guilty; another juvenile awaits a court hearing. The case against a third juvenile was dismissed.
Butler’s trial is expected to continue through next week.