The trial of a Havre businessman accused of assaulting a man outside of a Havre tavern and causing permanent injury to him began in state District Court in Havre Tuesday with jury selection, opening arguments and the testimony of the first witnesses.
Kenneth Erickson, born in 1961, is charged with felony aggravated assault or, in the alternative, criminal endangerment, for on April 23, 2011, striking Gene Johnson of Big Sandy, causing him to fall to the pavement in the parking lot of the Golden Spike, striking his head on the pavement, incurring skull fractures and putting him in the hospital in intensive care.
Hill County Attorney Gina Dahl, in her opening arguments, said the injury caused permanent brain damage to Johnson.
“He will never fully recover,” she said.
Kenneth Olson, Erickson’s attorney, said in his opening arguments that the evidence will show Erickson was acting in self-defence.
“Mr. Johnson harbored strong feelings of ill will toward Mr. Erickson,” Olson said. “The evidence will show that this led to confrontation on April 23, 2011.”
Dahl said after Johnson suffered his injuries he was flown to a Great Falls hospital for surgery. He spent a week there in its intensive care unit, then another week in the hospital before he was transferred and spent more weeks in rehabilitation and special care.
She said witnesses will testify that Erickson came out and confronted Johnson, shoving him at one point. Johnson shoved him back she said, but was not assaulting him when Erickson threw the punch that knocked Johnson to the pavement.
She said witnesses will testify that Johnson’s hands were at his sides, even in his pockets at the time of the punch.
“They will tell you Gene was not only not provoking this act, but was not even prepared for it,” she said.
Olson said testimony will show a different story. Witnesses will testify that Johnson believed — in error — that Erickson had made a false report to law enforcement that led to Johnson being charged with driving under the influence, he said.
“He was going to get Erickson for that. He was going to kick his ass,” Olson said.
He said Erickson was in the Golden Spike and stepped outside to get out of the heat and noise when Johnson came up and confronted him.
“Ken Erickson did not recognize the man,” Olson said. “He had no idea what he was so angry about.”
After Johnson shoved Erickson twice, and threatened him, Olson said, Erickson punched Johnson after the second shove because he was in fear of further assault.
Olson also said that Erickson — 5-foot-7-inches tall, 145 pounds — had no intent to cause permanent injury to the 6-foot-2-inch, 200 pound Johnson, by throwing one punch in self-defense.
“Ken was responding to this behavior. … He punched him one time. He thought that would stop his aggressive behavior. That was his intention,” Olson said. “There was no way he expected, or even dreamed … that one punch would cause that damage that Mr. Johnson, unfortunately, has suffered.”