A 45-year-old man who’d been in a coma for months after getting knocked to the pavement by a punch died Monday evening, and on Tuesday, jurors found the man who punched him guilty of a misdemeanor.
Adam Michael Wilson, 35, had been charged with aggravated assault in the April 29 incident that sent Valdo Evans to the hospital. Evans had a BAC of 0.348 at the time of the incident, and a woman who witnessed it said he fell backward without attempting to stop himself.
Evans was found dead in his long-term care facility on Monday evening, a detective testified on the second day of the trial. He’d been unconscious since his fall seven months earlier.
Wilson declined to comment after the verdict was read.
Evans’ family members live out of state and none were present for the trial.
Wilson has maintained he punched Evans in self-defense. He told police that Evans had punched him first and he punched back, once, according to testimony from Officer Casey Bigelow. Bigelow noted redness on Wilson’s nose.
Wilson stomped on Evans' chest after punching him, prosecutors noted. He then joined two others in dragging Evans by the feet out of North 27th Street, where he’d fallen. Wilson had begun walking south down the sidewalk when police located him and started asking questions, police testified.
Wilson raised the possibility with police of video footage, saying he hoped there were cameras in the area that could corroborate his statement that he’d been punched first. Wilson said the attack was random and he did not know why Evans punched him.
The only available footage of the incident does not show Evans throwing any punches, but a pillar obscures a portion of the altercation. The 911 caller who reported the incident said she arrived within view of the scene after the two men had begun arguing and did not see the start of the fight.
The state questioned Wilson’s self-defense claim, saying that after Wilson pushed Evans, he took it further.
“They’re already separated," said Chief Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Christopher Morris. "He then approaches (Evans) and goes into the street and punches him. And then (Evans) falls down and then he stomps on him. Those are not acts of self-defense. Those are aggression.”
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Morris said the threat to Wilson was over once Evans was lying motionless in the street, but Wilson tried to hurt Evans further by stomping on him.
Jurors had to sort through whether Wilson committed aggravated assault, the original charge, or criminal endangerment, an alternative charge. Both are felonies.
After they failed to reach a unanimous verdict on one of the felonies, they then considered two possible misdemeanors: assault or negligent endangerment. They found him guilty of misdemeanor assault.
A former medical examiner for Montana testified for the defense that Evans’ injuries were a result of him falling from standing height onto the asphalt and hitting his head.
The stomp, which the defense characterized as a kick to his chest, caused only bruising and a scratch, said Dr. Gary Dale.
Dale also said Evans’ level of intoxication was severe and would cause many people to lose consciousness, but that alcohol tolerance likely allowed him to be upright and awake. His 0.348 level was more than four times the legal limit and within the range medical examiners look for to make an acute alcohol intoxication designation on a death certification, Dale said.
Defense attorney Joel Thompson said in closing arguments that Wilson didn’t know whether Evans was armed when he punched Wilson, that it was a random assault and that Wilson had to act quickly to protect himself when he chose to punch back.
“Think of the allowances we make for police officers in situations where they feel that they are under threat,” Thompson said.
Morris, the prosecutor, said that it would be fairly uncommon for a death such as Evans' to prompt new charges after the case had gone to trial, but that he would research further before making a decision.
"We obviously thought it was the higher level charge," Morris said, but added he respected the jury's verdict and thanked them for their service.