AUGUSTA — A jury on Thursday convicted a Colorado man of two charges of aggravated assault for stabbing two people in a fight last November outside a Hallowell bar.
Jacob Lynn Hitchcock, 27, of Bennett, Colo. was found guilty on both counts not long after he took the stand in his own defense.
The jury of nine women and three men deliberated for less than two hours before returning a verdict. Hitchcock, who has been in jail in lieu of bail since Nov. 3, showed little reaction to the verdict, keeping his hands clasped in front of him. Justice Robert Mullen scheduled a sentencing hearing for 3 p.m. May 29. The charges each carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Earlier in the day, Hitchcock told the jury that a strong mixed drink and at least four or five beers fueled his actions around 1 a.m. Nov. 3 when he used his folding utility knife — he claimed in self-defense — on two local men in a fracas outside Higher Grounds.
He told jurors he was intoxicated when Andrew Severy and Ryan Sauber were stabbed.
“I was scared for my life,” Hitchcock told jurors from the witness stand.
His attorney, Roger Brunelle, earlier said Hitchcock was defending himself when he pulled out the utility knife he used to cut heavy-duty plastic pipe in his pipeline installation work and swung it at the people punching him in the face on Water Street. That fight left Hitchcock with a badly swollen and bruised face. He and the two victims were treated for their injuries at hospitals.
Hitchcock said that fight followed his use of a racial slur against blacks as he worked his way through a crowd to reach the exit of the Higher Grounds bar.
“I’m not from around here,” he said. “I grew up using that word. It’s just a bad word that I picked up. I didn’t direct it to anybody.”
He said he was confronted by two men outside the bar, one of them African-American, about his language. Hitchcock said he was reaching for his phone when Severy, a stranger, punched him in the face.
“I thought they were going to beat the brakes out of me,” Hitchcock testified.
In the commotion that followed, Hitchcock said, he was repeatedly beaten about the face and kicked in the stomach and legs.
He testified he did not remember much after the fight started and could not recall being in a Hallowell police cruiser. He said he woke up as he was being treated at a hospital.
Hitchcock, who was working in Gardiner for a pipeline-installing company from Colorado, said the evening at the bars in Augusta and Hallowell followed a long work day, dinner at his motel, and a call to his wife and children, who live in Oklahoma.
One of his former coworkers, Christopher Peterson, flew in from Colorado to testify Thursday as a witness for the defense. Peterson was the designated driver for the group of workers who went out drinking together about 10 p.m. Nov. 2, 2013.
Peterson told the jury that he exited Higher Grounds that night and saw a black man about to take a swing at Hitchcock, who was leaning against a vehicle. Peterson said he stopped the man at that point and then went back into the bar to get help from his boss, who was still inside.
On Wednesday, during the prosecution’s presentation of evidence, Severy testified that Hitchcock swung first, cutting Severy’s arm as he raised it to protect his face.
Sauber, who had been drinking with Severy and two other people that night, testified he saw what had happened to Severy and went after Hitchcock. Sauber said he was cut a number of times on his left side by Hitchcock.
In closing arguments Thursday, the prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Fernand LaRochelle, said that Hitchcock’s use of a box cutter amounted to using deadly force, which would be justified under the law if he were facing deadly force himself.
“In response to pushing and shoving by whomever, the defendant pulls out his box cutter and slashes them,” LaRochelle argued. “He’s not responding to deadly force.”
LaRochelle said Hitchcock provoked the fight by needling David James, repeatedly calling him “boy” and then using cruder language. James, a black man, said he was insulted but testified he was unwilling to fight in the street because he was on probation for robbery and did not want trouble. Instead, James said, his friend Severy confronted Hitchcock about it.
“Our contention is this defendant used deadly force in a situation where deadly force was not warranted and therefore he is guilty of aggravated assault against Mr. Severy and Mr. Sauber,” LaRochelle said.
The fight occurred just about closing time, and people leaving the bars at that time were all attracted to the commotion.
Brunelle told jurors that James’ testimony was aimed at protecting himself and that Sauber’s testimony was not believable because he testified that he had consumed nine beers and smoked medical marijuana that evening before the altercation.
Brunelle said Hitchcock certainly said something to offend James and Severy.
“These guys at some point, they decided they were going to take things into their own hand and teach him a lesson,” Brunelle told jurors.
Brunelle said Hitchcock’s fears for his life were justified.
“When two men are on you and one punches you in the head, that is the potential for death or lethality,” he said.
He said Sauber jumped into the fight after seeing his friend Severy stabbed.
Brunelle said Hitchcock reached into his pocket for his box cutter because he saw a number of people prepared to attack him.