Shane M. Bell
Perhaps it was self-defense. That's the argument William Tedford tried to make in a felony hearing in City Court this morning on behalf of his client, Shane M. Bell.
Bell is accused of punching 52-year-old Scott Baker on Sunday night shortly after the two men left a party at The Harvester on Harvester Avenue.
The purpose of a felony hearing is to determine if there's enough evidence to sustain the key elements of the crime as charged.
Tedford tried hard to expand the scope of the hearing to draw out more possible facts of the case, but Judge Robert Balbick sustained each of District Attorney Lawrence Friedman's objections as Tedford asked questions about Baker's prior criminal history, who other witnesses may be and whether his client was properly given his Miranda warnings.
All of those issues are interesting, Balbick said, but not relevant to a felony hearing. The defense will have every opportunity to raise those and other issues as the case moves forward.
The only two issues before the court were whether Bell hit Baker -- and Tedford acknowleged there was contact -- and whether Bell intended to cause serious physical injury when he allegedly swung his fist at Baker's head.
Tedford aimed to base a self-defense claim on testimony by Det. Pat Corona that Bell said Baker followed Bell out of the bar and across the street, that on the way, Baker chest bumped Bell at least once and possibly twice, and then Baker tapped Bell on the neck just before the punch was thrown.
"I submit your honor that there is sufficient information before the court today that while certainly my client had alleged involvement, the individual Scott Baker also has a role in this matter and the court should revisit that issue," Tedford said. "With assault in the second degree it's necessary to prove intentional injury and in this case the intent element is not so clear."
Friedman quickly rose from his chair when it was his turn to refute Tedford's argument.
"Mr. Tedford is right that his client was involved," Friedman said. "He's the one responsible for the serious physical injuries to Scott Baker. He's right that Scott Baker had a role. His role is that of the victim of this assault ...
"He said he was chest bumped before he punched him and he was touched on the back of the neck," Friedman added. "Your honor, this would not be a reasonable response even if you believe that is what happened. It does not in any way justify what happened to Scott Baker. (Bell is) not claiming his life was threatened or that he feared serious physical injury or even injury. He was bumped by Scott Baker and he turned and punched him."
Balbick upheld the felony charge of assault in the second degree and ordered Hill's no-bail status be continued.
During the hearing, Tedford asked whether Corona knew that The Harvester had been serving free beer from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Corona did not.
Corona said that Bell told him Baker and Hill had been in the bar hours prior to the incident and that they had exchanged a number of "drunken hugs."
In the courtroom during the hearing were the families for both Baker and Bell.
Baker remains in the trauma unit at ECMC unconscious with a serious head injury. One reason Bell is held without bail is that there's concern Baker will not survive, in which case Bell will be facing upgraded charges. Bell also has a prior felony conviction and 18 prior arrests, according to Balbick.