Jury acquits man who built wrestling ring

No license issued to hold recreational contests in yard

`This was a recreation'

Participants' safety was main issue for prosecution

Carroll County

November 15, 2001|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

A Sykesville man on trial for allowing a wrestling ring in his back yard - so his stepson and friends could stage shows mimicking television wrestlers - was found not guilty by a Carroll County jury yesterday.

The 12-member jury deliberated nearly three hours yesterday afternoon before finding Bruce Daniel Bouch, 34, not guilty of promoting an illegal contest Sept. 30 of last year and with allowing three unlicensed young men to wrestle in his back yard in exhibitions, endangering their safety.

At issue was that Bouch lacked a license to promote wrestling and many of the young men who participated were not licensed to wrestle by the state.

"We're very pleased. I think Mr. Bouch was correct in taking a stand on this," said George E. Rippel Jr., Bouch's attorney. "He always felt this was a recreation and not a business. They were not aware of the law."

If Bouch had been found guilty, he could have been sentenced to up to six months in prison and fined $2,000 on each of the five charges.

Bouch told the jury yesterday that he initially was against building the ring in his 3/4 -acre yard because he was concerned about safety. He changed his mind once he realized the group, Ground Breaking Wrestling, was serious about its pastime.

A skilled carpenter, Bouch took over the construction to ensure the ring was built correctly and had the boys agree to a set of guidelines for its use.

"If there was to be an injury, that was the end - the ring was coming down," said Bouch, who works as an operations director at Magna Card Inc. of Owings Mills and is a volunteer firefighter and rescue technician with the Gamber fire department. He was one of 17 Gamber firefighters honored by the Carroll commissioners last month for helping with rescue efforts in New York City after the terrorist attacks. Sept. 11

In addition, Bouch's wife, Debbie, received consent from the parents of the boys, made sure would-be wrestlers worked under the guidance of a local professional wrestler who was licensed and only allowed the exhibitions when Debbie and Bruce Bouch were home.

No young men were injured during the exhibitions, which started in August 1999 and continued for a year, Bruce Bouch said.

"This is all about safety," Jennifer L. Lowe, assistant state's attorney, told the jury in her closing argument yesterday afternoon. "But for the grace of God nothing happened to Greg Skipper and his friends. That's why we're here - we don't want anything to happen."

Debbie and Bruce Bouch and Debbie's son, Gregory Skipper, 19, told the court yesterday they did not know they needed licenses to run the wrestling exhibitions in their back yard. They said they never charged spectators admission and made no profit on the Saturday night events.

"We're a group of friends who go together in the back yard. It was no different than having a trampoline or playing football," Bruce Bouch said.

Two defense witnesses called to testify yesterday were young men who were friends of Skipper's and wrestled in the exhibitions.

"As far as we were concerned, we were just a couple of guys goofing off in the back yard," Andrew Gordon, 19, of Reisterstown said.

Four other adults were charged in the case. Charges against one were dropped, and three received probation before judgment in Carroll County District Court, Lowe said. Bouch was the only person charged to choose a jury trial.

Skipper said in court he wants to start a professional wrestling organization. He and his mother recently incorporated a company under the name Ground Breaking Wrestling Inc.

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