Jury acquits student in fight

Former football player accused in McDaniel brawl

He faced 2 assault charges

Racial harassment counts had been dropped

Westminster

March 26, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County jury found a McDaniel College student and former football standout not guilty of assaulting two college sophomores during a brawl that followed a racially charged verbal exchange on a late-night bus trip.

The jury of eight men and four women reached a verdict more than three hours after hearing closing arguments in the trial of Nicholaos G. Alevrogiannis, 23, who faced two second-degree assault charges stemming from a fight with Stuart V. Johnson Jr., 19, and Daniel Silva, 20, both McDaniel sophomores.

Alevrogiannis was identified as the key player in a confrontation Nov. 6 that began on a chartered bus returning to McDaniel College from a Baltimore nightclub and escalated into a fistfight on campus. Johnson suffered a broken finger and required 40 stitches to close a wound to his jaw and neck, according to court documents.

Alevrogiannis declined to comment after the verdict, but he grinned and cried as he hugged his mother, who sat in court with other family members during the three-day trial before county Circuit Court Judge Michael M. Galloway. Johnson, Silva, and their family and friends also declined to comment.

"The jury was out 3 1/2 hours and obviously took their instructions very seriously," said defense attorney J. Barry Hughes. "They took the time to hold the state to its burden of proof, eliminating the highly inflammatory and prejudicial aspects of the case. ... In the end, the inconsistencies in the state's case made it difficult for the state to prove its burden."

Additional charges of racial harassment against Alevrogiannis were dropped in court last week. Johnson and Silva are black and are roommates at McDaniel. Alevrogiannis is white.

Galloway barred witnesses at the trial from recalling racial or ethnic remarks made on the bus because he said the words would unfairly prejudice the jury against Alevrogiannis. The judge allowed testimony of violent threats as relevant to the assault charges.

Accounts of that trip and what happened afterward differed between the witnesses presented by defense attorneys and those presented by prosecutors.

Defense witnesses characterized the bus ride as relatively uneventful, except for some heated words between the two sophomores and Alevrogiannis. Six defense witnesses testified that back on campus Silva was the aggressor, breaking away from another friend and rushing at Alevrogiannis. The witnesses were football teammates of Silva's on the football team.

Alevrogiannis, they said, fought back with defensive techniques he picked up playing football in college and wrestling in high school.

David P. Daggett, deputy state's attorney for Carroll County, asked jurors to consider the possibility that defense witnesses - all former teammates of Alevrogiannis or current fraternity brothers, or both - had every reason to lie and protect their friend.

"They circled their wagons," Daggett said. "They're not about to give up on their friend."

Daggett cast Silva and Johnson as courageous, if not chivalrous, young men who stood up to an obnoxious, bigger bully who was spouting sexist, violent and racist invectives heard by other students on the bus.

Witnesses testified that Alevrogiannis threatened the two sophomores, saying, "It's a countdown to death," "I'll hang you" and "Bite the curb." The last is a reference to a scene in American History X in which a neo-Nazi forces a black man to lie on the street with his mouth on a curb and then stomps the back of the man's head with his foot.

In charging documents, Alevrogiannis is listed as weighing 285 pounds and standing 6 feet, 3 inches. Johnson testified that he weighed about 135 pounds, and Silva, who is also on the football team, testified to weighing about 190 pounds.

Although some witnesses testified that there was a cooling-down period on the 45-minute ride back to the campus, others testified that threats of violence by Alevrogiannis intensified against Johnson and Silva.

In the fight that followed on campus, charging documents and testimony allege, Alevrogiannis took a swing at Silva, missed and connected with Johnson's jaw. Johnson testified that he was pummeled by a group of young white men after being punched by Alevrogiannis.

Witnesses for the state and the defense agreed that during the fighting a glass bottle was broken. Prosecutors presented a witness that saw someone, not Alevrogiannis, hit Johnson with the bottle. But defense witnesses said they saw Johnson brandishing a broken bottle. The defense witnesses said that when another football player, Thomas E. "Scoots" Crowell, tackled Johnson to protect Alevrogiannis, Johnson must have fallen on the bottle.

Crowell, 24, was also charged with second-degree assault. His trial is scheduled for next month.

McDaniel College officials suspended Alevrogiannis, a fifth-year student, for two semesters for violating the college's conduct code, which prohibits physical abuse.

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