Beating case sent to grand jury

WOODSTOCK – A case involving a one-sided fight that sent a man to the hospital with a pair of black eyes and other severe facial bruises was passed to a grand jury for consideration Friday after a judge downgraded a charge of malicious wounding to unlawful wounding.

The defendant, William Houston Rutz, 21, of 766 Milner Road, Strasburg, is accused of repeatedly pummeling Matthew Murphy, 19, during a party Sept. 27 at a vacant house on South Middle Road near Mount Jackson.

Murphy testified at a preliminary hearing that Rutz attacked him at least three times over half an hour after the defendant called a woman a name and Murphy confronted him over the insult. Several people separated Rutz and Murphy after each incident.

Murphy testified that he suffered a mild concussion as a result of being hit in the face and head by Rutz. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kristin Zalenski presented General District Judge Amy Tisinger with a photo showing Murphy’s heavily bruised face.

Zalenski said malicious wounding was a proper charge in the case, despite the absence of a weapon and no statements attributed to Rutz that indicated he intended to severely injure or kill Murphy.

“This was not just a one-time situation,” Zalenski told Tisinger. “This was not one hit, you’re down, it’s over with.”

Defense attorney David Dischley downplayed the seriousness of the incident and argued that it amounted to no more than assault and battery.

“When I hear the evidence, it’s two kids that had a fight,” Dischley told Tisinger.

Tisinger said she considered the incident more serious than an assault and battery but less than malicious wounding, a class three felony carrying a prison sentence of five to 20 years. Tisinger downgraded the offense to unlawful wounding, a class six felony carrying a maximum sentence of no less than one year and no more than five, except when a jury or a judge trying a case from the bench decides to limit the maximum sentence to no more than one year.

Zalenski could still choose to resurrect the malicious wounding charge when the case is presented for consideration to a grand jury in August.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com