After seven months jailed in the Fairfax County Juvenile Detention Center, 17-year-old Derrick Battle was released Friday to go home.
"If I'm given a chance, you will never see me in a courtroom again," said Battle, a former Advanced Placement student at Herndon High School who was charged with two counts of malicious wounding stemming from a nearly fatal baseball bat attack on Elden Street in January.
Judge David Stitt sentenced Battle to three years on both counts of unlawful wounding, but suspended all time except for seven months Battle already served in juvenile jail.
"I think you have a lot of potential to be a productive citizen. I believe this is an aberration," said Stitt. "I hope you're right that I never see you again."
Outside the courtroom, Battle's mother Sharon Alston cried as she hugged family and friends who came to support her son.
Battle's father, Jarvis Battle, and his wife were also there. They traveled from Atlanta to support Battle and his mother. "Thank God the outcome was in our favor. We really do have a good child," Jarvis Battle said.
"We're glad it's over with, glad he's going home," said Vincent Robertson, Battle's defense attorney.
<b>BATTLE FACED</b> up to 10 years in prison, but the pre-sentencing report prepared by Battle’s probation officer recommended that he serve no additional jail time.
"There is no indication of violence in his background," said Michael Ron Worthy, Battle's other defense attorney.
"I would ask that the court please stick within the guidelines … and allow my client to move on with his life," he said.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney John Murphy hopes Battle takes with him a serious lesson from his experience with the court system. "My one concern is that this young man understands he really did do wrong that day," said Murphy.
"Even if he set out with the intent of self-defense … he grossly overreacted to the situation," Murphy said. "He may have started out a hero, but he did not end up one."
Before he knew his sentence, Battle told the judge in front of a crowded courtroom that he accepts the consequences of his crime.
"I put myself in that position," he said. "I am never going to put my hands on another individual."
<b>BATTLE COULD HAVE</b> ended up in adult prison for decades after being charged as an adult with aggravated malicious wounding and malicious wounding after the assault.
Before Alston and Jarvis Battle hired Worthy and Robertson, their previous attorney suggested Battle plead guilty to a 20-year sentence, five to be served in adult prison, 15 suspended, and 10 years of probation, according to Battle’s mother.
But Worthy and Robertson argued in the July trial that Battle acted in self-defense after two gang members, former Herndon High School students who were carrying weapons, picked a fight with Battle and his friend as they were walking along Elden Street.
"The jury came back with a clear message to the court and the Commonwealth that they believe my client did not commit this crime in a malicious nature," said Worthy.
Battle testified in his case, saying one of the victims had previously pulled a knife on Battle’s friend in school and was later expelled.
Battle testified that the gang members confronted him and a friend when they were walking home on the afternoon of Jan. 14, and that he was pulled to the ground by the two males. He was able to get free and ran to his friends at a gas station across the street, he said. That’s when he got the baseball bat from one of his friends.
"My intent was basically to scare them off," he testified. "My intent was not to use it."
But when a beer bottle was thrown at his eye, Battle testified that he swung the bat, hitting the 17-year-old in the right arm. When the 17-year-old tried to get the bat, that’s when Battle struck the victim until he thought he was no longer a threat, he said.
Witnesses for the prosecution testified that they saw Battle bending over the victim on the ground, hitting him with the baseball bat in the chest and stomach, walking away, then using the bat one more time to the 17-year-old’s head. The victim was initially not expected to survive, spent seven days in a coma and more than three weeks in critical condition.
"Mr. Battle deliberately used a deadly weapon," Murphy said during the trial. "Whatever [the victims] did, they didn’t deserve what they got."
<b>FIVE TEENAGERS</b> were charged in the assault. While three received sentences as juveniles — and were not identified by police — Battle and co-defendant Carl Kenneth Prioleau were prosecuted as adults.
Prioleau brought the black aluminum baseball bat to the scene — although he did not use it during the attack — and was charged with one count of maiming or malicious wounding.
Prioleau pleaded guilty in March, a point his defense attorney, Leda Gottleib, stressed to Judge Leslie M. Alden during his sentencing hearing in August.
"He pled guilty, he didn’t waste court resources or the court’s time," Gottleib said.
Prioleau, who had been "flirting with a criminal lifestyle for a long time," according to Murphy, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Alden suspended eight years and six months of his jail time, and Prioleau will be kept on active probation for eight years.
"I understand you’re young and I take that into account, but I’m not going to take any chances of you," Alden said. "My primary responsibility is the safety of the community."
<b>PROSECUTING ATTORNEYS</b> said Battle is lucky the 17-year-old lived — otherwise, he could have faced a murder charge.
Battle’s defense attorneys convinced the jury and Judge Stitt that the two victims initiated the fight.
"The alleged victims in this case really were the aggressors up to some point," Stitt said Friday.
Battle’s attorneys still don’t understand why the two victims were not also charged in the assault.
The 17-year-old victim pleaded guilty in Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court to carrying a machete in a separate incident in May, three months after his recovery.
"I realize the victims in this case were not appealing characters," Murphy said, at Battle’s sentencing.
"I’d say so, you didn’t even put one of them on the stand," said Stitt.