Attack could net 25 years

Cockeysville teen convicted of assault on Hereford teacher

Severe sentence favored

Victim Jason Barnett says trial made him relive the beating

January 05, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County prosecutor said he will seek a 25-year prison term for an 18-year-old Cockeysville man convicted yesterday of first-and second-degree assault in the nearly fatal beating of Hereford Middle School teacher Jason Barnett.

State guidelines call for a sentence of up to 18 years.

The defendant, Daniel Leksen, showed no emotion as Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert N. Dugan announced the verdict.

Barnett said that testifying in Leksen's daylong trial forced him to relive a terrifying attack.

"It doesn't get any easier. Every day in court feels just the same as when it happened," said Barnett, 25.

Barnett was walking with two friends, Jeffrey Gilbert and Tami Torrey, to an apartment in Cockeysville on June 18 when he was attacked by four men, knocked to the ground and beaten so severely that he spent 11 days at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Barnett, an agricultural science teacher at Hereford Middle School, had four surgical procedures to reconstruct his shattered face. He lost 25 pounds because his jaw was wired shut for several weeks and he had to take nourishment through a syringe.

Police and prosecutors say the attack was unprovoked.

In closing arguments yesterday, Leksen's attorney, Patrick Maher, said that Barnett's assailants had asked Barnett if he had any cigarettes moments before the assault.

They may have taken his response - asking them if they had any chewing tobacco - as a sign of disrespect, he said.

"The phrase was `Do you have any chew?' and whether they took that the wrong way, they decided they were going to do something about it," Maher said.

Leksen, a junior at Dulaney High School, testified that he was drunk at the time of the attack, that two co-defendants initiated the assault and that his role was limited to throwing one punch at Barnett and six others at Gilbert, who was not seriously injured.

Two of Leksen's former baseball coaches testified that he was generally a "peaceful" person.

But Dugan said that he didn't believe Leksen was drunk because he remembered so many details of the attack. The judge also said Leksen appeared to be anything but peaceful.

"This defendant may have been a peaceful person at one time, but he was anything but peaceful on June 18," Dugan said.

Dugan acquitted Leksen of attempted murder, saying he was not convinced Leksen showed a specific intent to kill Barnett, given the swiftness of the attack.

Gilbert, Torrey and Leksen testified that the attack took between 10 and 20 seconds.

"This was a spontaneous incident that happened very fast, even though for Mr. Barnett I'm sure it was a nightmare that seemed to go on forever," Dugan said.

Dugan convicted Leksen of first- and second-degree assault, charges which carry respective penalties of 25 years and 10 years.

Assistant State's Attorney James O. Gentry said that state sentencing guidelines, which take into account the defendant's criminal record and the nature of the victim's injuries, recommend a sentence of 10 to 18 years on the two charges.

Even so, Gentry said he will ask for a 25-year term when Dugan sentences Leksen on March 19.

Three other defendants have pleaded guilty to assault charges in the attack.

Franklin J. Medina, 16, of Cockeysville was sentenced Oct. 20 in juvenile court to an indefinite term at the Charles H. Hickey School.

Roy G. Higgs, 18, of Owings Mills was sentenced last month to 15 years in prison.

Jimmy Zentz, 20, of Manchester is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 9.

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