WASHINGTON—Duke University lacrosse player Collin Finnerty was convicted Tuesday of misdemeanor simple assault and sentenced to probation after a judge found him guilty of threatening a Washington man outside a Georgetown bar in November.
The 6-foot-3 Finnerty, wearing a navy sports coat and yellow tie, sat motionless between his attorneys as U.S. Superior Court Judge John H. Bayly Jr. read his verdict.
Finnerty stood silently during the sentencing and, after court adjourned, met with a tearful girlfriend and an entourage of family and friends, including his priest, in a conference room.
Finnerty, a sophomore, is one of three Duke lacrosse players charged with raping an exotic dancer at a team party in Durham, N.C., in March. His Washington attorney, Steven J. McCool, said Tuesday that he didn't think the conviction would affect Finnerty's Durham case.
McCool said he would appeal the verdict.
"We don't think there's sufficient evidence to convict Collin Finnerty," McCool told reporters.
The case stems from a Nov. 4, 2005, incident in the Washington neighborhood of Georgetown. Assistant U.S. Attorney George Varghese said Finnerty, 19, and a group of high school lacrosse teammates went out for a night of partying and picked a fight outside a bar with two local men.
According to testimony, Finnerty and his friends followed the men two blocks up a street, taunting them, throwing fake punches and hurling derogatory references to homosexuality.
All had been drinking, according to testimony.
The victim, Jeffrey O. Bloxsom, and a childhood friend, Scott Herndon, both 27, testified that Finnerty instigated the fight and that he "got in the face" of Bloxsom and shoved him, yelling: "Say you're a (expletive), say you're a (expletive)."
Bloxsom, who had dined earlier that night with his fiancee, testified that he complied to avoid a fight.
One of Finnerty's friends also punched Bloxsom in the mouth, according to prosecutors and the defense.
Finnerty had been on a first-time offender diversion program after the fight. But the charges in Durham violated the terms of the agreement, and Finnerty went to trial.
The two-day trial included testimony from two police officers, two hospital nurses, the victim and his friend, four of Finnerty's friends and two men from Finnerty's hometown in New York who testified as character witnesses. One was the priest who ran his all-boys high school; the other was the father of his girlfriend.
McCool said the character witnesses "show the character of the man," but Bayly disagreed in part.
"When he is sober," Bayly said. "Do you think your character witnesses knew your client was using a fake ID to get into bars? People's character changes when they're drunk."
Varghese argued that the judge need only find that Finnerty aided and abetted his friend's punch to Bloxsom's mouth, that he shoved Bloxsom or that he "intended to frighten" the victim with the pulled punches.
Ultimately, Bayly said he found the testimony of Bloxsom most convincing. He convicted Finnerty based on the fake punches, in which Finnerty repeatedly stopped his fist short of landing blows.
Bayly sentenced Finnerty to 30 days in prison, but the jail time was suspended. Instead, Finnerty will go into a youthful offender probation program for six months. He must undergo alcohol testing and rehabilitation if deemed necessary, must steer clear of places where alcohol is served—though he may go to restaurants with his parents—and must stay out of Georgetown.
Afterward, his record will be expunged, McCool said after the verdict.
The trial attracted unusual attention and effort for a routine misdemeanor assault case. Two attorneys sat with Finnerty, and he was supported silently in the courtroom by nearly two dozen friends and family members sitting behind him.
Half the room was filled with reporters, who repeatedly darted outside with cell phones and crowded the court hallway.
"It was definitely the highest-profile misdemeanor case we've had," said Varghese, who said he prosecuted the case against a high-dollar defense team. "We spent a lot of time litigating the case. Ultimately, we're pleased with the verdict."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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