Brawl defendant acquitted in court
WOODSTOCK — Participants in a rural rumble that ended with two people hospitalized squared off again Wednesday in Shenandoah County Circuit Court without the baseball bat, pipe, walking stick and handgun that were part of their last encounter.
This time, the weapons were words and conflicting stories wielded by attorneys and witnesses. In the end, Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp declared the conduct of participants in the brawl as “idiotic” and acquitted a defendant, Justin Tyler Biggers, of two felony counts and found him guilty of misdemeanor assault and battery.
Hupp announced his decision Thursday morning after hearing eight hours of testimony during a bench trial Wednesday.
Biggers, 21, of 2999 Stony Creek Road, entered the courtroom charged with malicious wounding and malicious wounding as part of a mob. Biggers’ victim, Michael Baughman, suffered a broken jaw during a melee at 398 Coal Mine Road on Sept. 5, 2014.
Biggers is scheduled to be sentenced at 9 a.m. Oct. 17. The assault and battery conviction carries a far lighter maximum sentence than Biggers would have faced if he had been convicted of malicious wounding or malicious wounding as part of a mob, each of which carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
Several other defendants in the case, including Joshua Ingle, 20, of Maurertown, and Junior Edmond Lloyd Reynolds, 20, of 225 Bushy Ridge Drive, Star Tannery, are still facing charges from the same incident. A fourth defendant, Ricky Barry, 18, has been placed on probation in juvenile and domestic relations court after pleading guilty to assault and battery by mob.
A total of seven participants in the brawl testified with each side blaming the other for causing it. Witnesses from both sides agreed that Jonathan Funkhouser II struck the first blow when he hit Reynolds in the jaw or chin with a walking stick.
Someone then hit Funkhouser in the head with a hard object, leaving him stunned on the ground. Doctors at Winchester Medical Center diagnosed Funkhouser with a fractured skull and fractured orbital bone as a result of blows he suffered during the brawl. Ingle, a member of Bigger’s party, testified that he “ended up on top of” Jonathan Funkhouser II and hit him in the face “a few times with my hand.”
“I was on top until he asked me to stop,” Ingle said of Jonathan Funkhouser II.
Funkhouser testified he got to his feet, but found himself confronting Biggers, who had grabbed a baseball bat. Funkhouser said his son, Jonathan Funkhouser III, went to a car where he retrieved his father’s handgun and brought it to him. The elder Funkhouser said Biggers dropped the bat after seeing him unholster the pistol. Funkhouser said he put the gun back in its holster without having aimed or fired it.
Baughman testified that Biggers hit him in the jaw with an axe handle. Biggers did not testify, but others who were in his party said the defendant used only his fists against Baughman.
In either case, Hupp said, it was clear that Biggers hit Baughman.
“I find him guilty of assault and battery,” Hupp said of Biggers.
Witnesses from both sides agreed that Biggers and several other people drove two vehicles and parked across the road about 75 yards from the residence of Jonathan Funkhouser III’s mother. Earlier in the day, Jonathan Funkhouser III had notified his father that Biggers had been posting what the younger Funkhouser interpreted as threatening messages on social media.
Biggers’ attorney, Charles Ramsey, of Woodstock, called the messages “not explicit.”
“It’s very, very vague as to the threat,” Ramsey said during closing arguments.
Members of the Biggers’ party testified that they had gone to the site to talk peacefully about settling a dispute that stemmed from Jonathan Funkhouser III allegedly bullying Barry in school.
Jonathan Funkhouser II testified that he and two other men drove to 398 Coal Mine Road after Jonathan Funkhouser III had notified him that he was worried about the social media comments posted by Biggers.
After arriving at the residence, the Funkhousers, Baughman and the other man in their party walked toward the Biggers’ party across the road. The fight erupted moments later.
Hupp blamed both sides for “actions taken that I would have called idiotic.”
Hupp said the Funkhouser group could have taken refuge in a garage or the house and called the sheriff’s office instead of choosing to confront Biggers and his companions.
“They were as much at fault in the confrontation as the Biggers’ group,” Hupp said, adding that, “once (Jonathan Funkhouser II) struck that first blow, the melee started.”
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org