Derrick Battle said he never intended to hurt two teens, former Herndon High School classmates, in a Jan. 14 incident off Elden Street.
"My intent was to protect myself," said the defendant from the witness stand last week. "I just wanted to go home. I told the officer I didn't want to harm anybody, but I felt I had to protect myself."
A Fairfax County Circuit Court jury found Battle, 17, guilty Friday, July 22 on two counts of causing unlawful bodily injury for using a baseball bat in the January incident to beat two teenagers near the Dulles Park shopping center. Battle will be sentenced in the fall and faces a possible sentence of up to five years in prison.
During the four-day trial, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney John Murphy argued that Battle should be found guilty of the original charges against him, aggravated maiming and malicious wounding, which carry a possible sentence of five to 20 years in prison.
"Mr. Battle deliberately used a deadly weapon," Murphy said during the trial.
"Whatever they did they didn't deserve what they got," said Murphy about the victims in his opening statement. "Whatever they got was not done in self defense."
BUT DEFENSE ATTORNEYS Michael R. Worthy and Vincent L. Robertson said Battle did act in self defense, protecting himself and friends from at least one of the teens he knew to be a gang member.
"He told [Herndon Police], before talking with an attorney or before being told about self defense, that he got the baseball bat to protect himself," Worthy said in closing statements.
Battle pleaded not guilty to the counts of aggravated maiming against one of the victims and not guilty to malicious wounding against the other.
"How the jury found him guilty on both charges is beyond my understanding," Robertson said. "Especially because there was no critical evidence that said he even touched [one of the victims.]"
HERNDON POLICE responded to a malicious wounding call at 5:03 p.m. on Jan. 14 in the 1000 block of Elden Street, near the end of the Dulles Park shopping center on the sidewalk at Alabama Drive. According to police reports, a group of five teenage males confronted and assaulted a 16-year-old and 17-year-old.
Worthy claims his client and a friend were first confronted by the two males who were trying to start a fight, carrying at least one full 32-ounce beer bottle to be used as a weapon. One of the victims pulled a knife on them twice, once at a party in October 2004 and once in school, said Worthy.
But according to Murphy, Battle and his friends ganged up on the two males, with four of Battle's friends beating the 16-year-old and Battle beating the 17-year-old with a baseball bat.
Witnesses called to testify against Battle said they saw him bending over the victim on the ground, hitting him with the baseball bat in the chest and stomach area, walking away, then returning to deliver one more blow to the 17-year-old's head.
"While he was on the ground the others walked away toward the Food Lion, but the one with the bat continued to beat him," said Althea Rose, a witness who watched the fight from across Elden Street.
"I really thought he was dead, it was really scary," said John Allison, a prosecution witness, about the victim on the ground.
Everyone was involved in the fighting, not just Battle and his friends, said Allison.
Murphy called other witnesses, including the doctor who was on call when the 17-year-old victim was transported by helicopter from the scene. The doctor testified that the 17-year-old was in a coma for seven days following the incident and in the hospital until February. If he had not been young, the victim most likely would not have survived the head injuries, said Murphy in his closing argument.
Battle, a tall, slender 17-year old wearing a white button down dress shirt and navy blue slacks, took the stand on the second day of the trial.
Denied the opportunity to call witnesses to talk about Battle's character — a good student in advanced placement classes, a starting football player who also worked part-time — Worthy had to rely on Battle to provide that information.
During his testimony, Battle said one of the victims had pulled a knife on Battle's friend in school and later was expelled.
"I looked at his face and a red light went off in my head that he was the one who pulled a knife on [a friend] in school," said Battle about the day of the incident.
The two males started yelling at Battle and his friend and then "gave chase," according to Battle.
"I was at a loss for words, I didn't know why they were chasing me," he said. "I didn't give them any words or any reason for them to come after me."
After being pulled to the ground by the two males, Battle said he was able to get free and run to his friends at a gas station across the street. During that time another friend had arrived with a baseball bat. Battle said he saw the bat and grabbed it.
"My intent was basically to scare them off," he said. "My intent was not to use it."
When a glass beer bottle was thrown at his eye, Battle said he swung the bat, hitting the 17-year-old in the right arm.
"I stopped swinging the bat, but [he] came back and hit me again so I swung again and missed," he said. "That's when [he] tried to get the bat.
"I was thinking if [he] gets the bat he's going to be violent and I don't know what he's going to do."
Battle struck the victim until he thought he was no longer a threat, according to his testimony. But when the 17-year-old reached into his pocket and pulled out "a shiny metal object," Battle said that’s when he hit him in the head with the bat.
"My biggest fear was that he was trying to hurt me and my friends," he said. "My intent was to protect myself."
After a security guard came out with an unholstered gun to stop the fight, Battle said he left the scene wanting to go home. He went to the Herndon Community Center and called his mother, who picked him up and took him immediately to the police station after hearing what happened.
During cross examination, Murphy compared Battle’s statements made to police the night of the incident to his testimony on the stand.
He asked Battle three or four times if he was adding information to his testimony to "justify what you did with the bat?"
Battle's response every time was "no sir."
ONE QUESTION Battle's attorneys asked during the trial was why the two victims in the incident were not charged since they were also part of the fight.
Det. Steven Pihonak, Herndon Police's lead investigator on the case, said the 17-year-old was not charged because they did not know if he would survive.
"At the time, [the first victim], by all counts from the doctors and professionals we spoke to, was not expected to live," said Pihonak.
Worthy asked why the 16-year-old was not charged, since he was not as seriously injured. He also asked why the 17-year-old was not charged once he recovered and was released from the hospital.
"After talking with the commonwealth attorney we decided not to charge him," he said.
"One thing that I think is an injustice is that [the two victims] got away with assault and battery," said Robertson after the trial. "They used a deadly weapon and they got away with it."
AFTER THE JURY'S DECISION, Battle walked out of the courtroom to be taken back to the Juvenile Detention Center, where he has been jailed since January, with his head hung low and his shoulders slumped.
"This is not a young man who under any circumstances should be behind bars," said Robertson, adding they plan to appeal the case after sentencing.
Murphy maintains Battle's actions were not self-defense and were criminal.
"Was it reasonable when the defendant almost killed [the victim]?" Murphy said during the trial.
"Is this what he had to do to solve his problem?"