Did 16-year-old Herndon High School student Derrick Battle use a black aluminum baseball bat as an assault weapon or to protect his own life on the afternoon of Jan. 14 near the Dulles Park shopping center? Prosecuting and defense attorneys told two contrasting stories last Friday, March 18, during a status conference before Judge Stanley P. Klein in Fairfax County Circuit Court.
After being assaulted by a group of five boys and beaten with the bat by Battle, one of two teenage victims was air-lifted to a local hospital, where he spent almost three weeks in critical condition with head injuries. Battle, now 17, is fortunate that the victim managed to hold onto life, according to Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney John Murphy.
"What happens is anything but self defense," Murphy said. "He is very lucky he is not being charged with murder."
But according to Battle's new defense attorney Michael Worthy, the two victims were gang members — already on probation for violent weapon offenses — who held bottles in their hands as they ran after his client.
"We want to set the record straight," Worthy said. "He was truly in fear of his life that day."
<b>HERNDON POLICE </b>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. One victim was air-lifted to a hospital and another, who fled the scene, was later transported to a local hospital by rescue personnel for head and upper torso injuries.
Worthy claims his defendant and friend were the ones who were first confronted. After playing Nintendo games, Battle was walking home with a friend when a black car started driving back and forth by them, said Worthy. "My client said something back to them. Next thing he knew, he was being chased by victims with bottles in their hands."
Neither Murphy nor Worthy dispute that Battle then called Carl Kenneth Prioleau, 17, a co-defendant in the attack, requesting he come to help. "Instead of calling 911, he called another friend and told him to bring a bat," Worthy said.
Battle was charged by a Fairfax grand jury in February with aggravated maiming.
<b>THE TWO VERSIONS</b> of the story diverge sharply at that point.
"Once he got the bat, he had a weapon to defend himself," Worthy said.
"What happens is anything but self defense," said Murphy, who told Judge Klein that he is prepared to have "unbiased witnesses…horrified citizens" testify when Battle's case comes to trial.
"A Hispanic male was down and out and on the ground with this defendant teeing up on his head," Murphy said. One witness, Murphy claims, saw Battle smiling as he was beating one victim. A security guard had to stop the assault from continuing, he said. Witnesses saw that the victims were outnumbered two to five in the attacks, Murphy said.
Battle struck the victims until he thought they were no longer a threat, according to Worthy. "He could have done a lot of things. He went straight home to his mother. … They went straight to the police," Worthy said. "A couple days later he was arrested."
<b>BATTLE'S ATTORNEYS PLAN </b>to hire a private investigator and other experts to help their client's defense.
In addition to Battle's mother — a master sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps — five members from the community, which included Rev. Weaver Blondin of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, came to the hearing to support Battle, who has no criminal history, no behavior problems and no problems with peers, according to his attorneys, Worthy and Vince Robertson.
According to Fairfax County school records that were presented to the court by Worthy, Battle was taking Physics, Latin II and excelling in English class. Records showed that some teachers referred to Battle's high academic potential and said he gets along with everyone and is admired by people who know him.
Worthy said when he first met Battle, his client's first question was how the victim was doing. "He was concerned," Worthy said.
Worthy and Robertson requested that Judge Klein release Battle on bond and to put him on house arrest and electronic monitoring, only to leave to go to work. Worthy offered a letter from Battle's employer, who said he would reemploy Battle, if released.
<b>JUDGE KLEIN REFUSED </b>bond, sending Battle back to the juvenile detention center.
Prioleau pled guilty to a maiming charge on Tuesday, March 15 in Fairfax Circuit Court and is jailed at the juvenile detention center as well. His attorney plans to advocate for him to be sentenced as a juvenile.
During Battle's court hearing Friday, Judge Klein said he thought Battle was prepared to plead guilty last week, too.
Worthy said that was an agreement worked by other attorneys before he took Battle's case.
Murphy said the commonwealth needs one day to prove its case against Battle. He said he would be prepared to go to trial in three weeks.
Worthy said the trial will need to last five days.
Klein tentatively set three days for the upcoming trial, which is currently scheduled for June. Klein asked that the two sides try to come to agreement soon if there is a possibility of a plea agreement.
"If something is going to be worked out, I don't want this to be worked out the morning of the trial," Judge Klein said.