AUGUSTA — A Colorado man on trial for stabbing two men with a box cutter outside a Hallowell bar last November acted in self-defense, the man’s attorney told jurors Wednesday.
Jacob Lynn Hitchcock, 26, of Bennett, Colo., is on trial in Kennebec County Superior Court facing two charges of aggravated assault stemming from a fight in front of the Higher Grounds bar in Hallowell. The scuffle reportedly was sparked by a racial slur that Hitchcock directed at another man.
Hitchcock has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His attorney, Roger Brunelle, told jurors Hitchcock will testify that he acted in self-defense.
“He was at a point where the only option he had was to defend himself,” Brunelle said in his opening statement.
He said Hitchcock was in Maine working for a contractor and had gone out that night with co-workers but had not changed his clothes, which is why he had his utility knife with him.
The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Fernand LaRochelle, showed jurors photos of Hitchcock and of Water Street in Hallowell, just in front of Higher Grounds. The nine women and five men on the jury handled photos of Hitchcock that showed him with his face swollen and bruised and with cuts above his eye.
In court on Wednesday, Hitchcock wore a blue long-sleeved shirt, a dark tie, a black belt and trousers. His face is thin and free of bruises.
The difference in his appearance then was so drastic that Hallowell Police Officer Kristal Clark, who arrested Hitchcock that night and took him to MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta for treatment of his injuries, could not identify him in the courtroom Wednesday.
She testified that Hitchcock appeared so intoxicated to her he was slurring his words and she had to ask him to spell his name so she could understand it.
Among the witnesses Wednesday were the stabbing victims.
Andrew Severy, of Richmond, testified that Hitchcock stopped him and his friends as they tried to enter Higher Grounds around 1 a.m. Nov. 3, just before last call.
“He stopped David (James) and proceeded to say his kind wasn’t welcome there,” and followed that with a racial slur to refer to James, who is black, Severy said.
Severy said he objected to the remark and turned around to talk to someone. “That’s when I was attacked with the box cutter,” he said.
Severy testified that he never entered Higher Grounds that night because Hitchcock blocked him, but others testified they had a drink inside that bar with Severy.
The other victim, Ryan Sauber, who was living in Hallowell at the time, identified for the jury the holes the box cutter made in the left side of his jacket, which LaRochelle pulled from a sealed brown bag.
Sauber testified that he was cut a number of times on the left side and under his arm. Sauber also testified that he had gone out to the bars in Hallowell with friends after smoking his medical marijuana, and having several beers at home. In response to questions from Brunelle, Sauber said he had perhaps nine beers that evening.
He said he had not known the defendant prior to being stabbed “other than when I walked out of the bar and he was playing bouncer,” Sauber said.
James, of Gardiner, testified that the man — later identified as Hitchcock — who stopped his friends at the door to Higher Grounds kept calling him “boy” and that he felt it showed disrespect. “Back in the old days, they used to call slaves âboy,'” James said.
He said he refused to fight about it in the street since he was on probation for robbery and wanted to avoid trouble.
“If he had a problem with me, we could go around the corner and duke it out,” James said.
He also said Severy took off his jacket to try to intimidate Hitchcock, and Hitchcock started swinging at him.
A bouncer from Higher Grounds, Brian King, said he recalled Hitchcock from seeing his ID when he entered and from being told by the bartender that Hitchcock was banging on the bar and yelling for drinks. He said he saw him at one point apparently checking IDs of other patrons.
King said he became involved after a man opened the door to Higher Grounds, lifted his shirt, and said, “I’ve been stabbed,” and identified the person who stabbed him as a person wearing glasses and leaning on a car just outside the bar.
King said he went to talk to him.
“Before I could say anything, he reached in his pocket, pulled out a box cutter and he came at me,” King said.
The defense portion of the trial is expected to begin at 9 a.m. Thursday. Justice Robert Mullen told jurors the case was moving swiftly and that they could be deliberating on Thursday.