By Tim Eberly
A Box Elder resident on trial for felony assault charges left the Hill County Courthouse a free man Tuesday after a jury convicted him of a misdemeanor for his role in a Halloween assault on his cousin.
The 12-person jury in District Court found 36-year-old Curtis Stanley not guilty of aggravated assault and assault with a weapon by accountability, but convicted him of misdemeanor assault of Sammy St. Marks.
"I think the lesser charge should have been dropped," Stanley said before leaving the courthouse. But, "I'm just glad that I'm out of jail."
Because Stanley had been incarcerated in the Hill County Detention Center since Nov. 1, District Judge John Warner ordered his release as soon as two sheriff's deputies escorted him back to the jail.
"I'm just overjoyed that he's out," Barbara DuBois, Stanley's mother, said afterward. "I was pretty scared there for a while... That was a long, long struggle for him."
The maximum penalty for the misdemeanor offense is six months in jail and a $500 fine.
Prosecutors charged Stanley with aggravated assault for his alleged involvement in the prolonged Oct. 31 beating of 46-year-old Stanley Wilson of Great Falls. The jury found him not guilty of that charge.
The assault with a weapon by accountability charge resulted from the altercation that evening with St. Marks, which occurred when the brothers brought Wilson to the residence where St. Marks was located, court documents said.
Both brothers were accused of beating Wilson for hours with a mop and steel leg from a table while driving around in his van. Wilson had given the duo a ride to Havre from Great Falls, he has said.
At the end of the two-day trial, the jury deliberated for four hours before returning with the verdict.
"The evidence just wasn't there," said Wes Fehr, foreman of the jury. "That's what it boiled down to."
Only two of the Deputy Hill County Attorney Cyndee Faus's eight witnesses testified that Stanley participated with his half-brother, Travis Standing Horn, in the beating of Wilson, Fehr said. And their testimony was not convincing, he added.
One of them, St. Marks, never specifically named Stanley as an assailant during his testimony, Fehr said. The jury also felt St. Marks did not have an ideal vantage point for the portion of the assault he witnessed outside a trailer in the 1800 block of First Street in Havre, Fehr said.
"There was a lot of flip-flopping" in the jury room, Fehr said.
Wilson's testimony did not aid the prosecution's cause, Fehr said, because his memory appeared to be affected by the severe beating he suffered. "Everything was so skewed because the damage was sustained," he said.
Fehr also said the prosecution failed to provide the jury with a clear timeline of the incident.
Standing Horn's testimony had the greatest impact on the jury, Fehr said.
"His timeline fit the best," he said of the defense's witness.
Standing Horn, 24, pleaded guilty April 8 to aggravated assault on Wilson, whose face required extensive reconstructive surgery and is permanently disfigured because of the incident.
"He was attacked. He was beaten," Randy Randolph, Stanley's attorney, said of Wilson during his closing argument. "But, in fact, he was beaten only by Travis."
Randolph repeatedly referred to the prosecution's case as a "fairy tale," asking the jury why Faus never found Stanley's fingerprints on the weapons used in the attack.
He used Wilson's initial interview with Havre police against the prosecution, saying the victim originally told officers that Standing Horn beat him. Randolph also said Wilson was more intoxicated than he admitted, as his blood alcohol concentration was 0.066 the morning after the beating. Marijuana was also found in his system, Randolph said.
"His memory appears to be fading," Randolph said of the victim.
During her final remarks, Faus said three factors summarized the evening: alcohol, anger and violence.
The prosecutor said she counted six different versions of the story Stanley provided to authorities, and she outlined Wilson's testimony.
"Stanley told you he was beat by the defendant and his brother," Faus said, adding later, "This was a joint effort on both of their parts."
Several times throughout her closing argument, Faus held up a photo of Wilson's swollen and distorted face, taken shortly after the accident. She also described in detail the amount of blood found inside the van where Wilson was beaten.