After deliberating for nearly seven hours, a St. Croix County jury decided a former UW-Stout hockey player is not guilty of felony murder and aggravated battery that led to the death of a fellow Stout student.
The family of Jared C. Britton, 23, shed tears of joy when Dunn County Circuit Court Judge Rod Smeltzer read the verdict handed down by the jury of seven men and five women, while the family and friends of the late Brad Simon sat in stunned silence.
Reflecting the feelings of the Britton family, defense attorney Earl Gray said he was very pleased with the verdict. “This was a difficult case because of the emotion involved,” he said, referring to the accident that ultimately resulted in the death of Brad Simon, 23. “I’m guessing if I was on the jury, I would find the alleged battery didn’t cause the death of [Brad Simon].”
Conflicting testimony from the prosecution’s star witness, a Log Jam bouncer, about the color of the hooded sweatshirt Britton probably raised doubts in the jury’s mind, Gray said, as well as the fact that Britton and McGlasson are similar in build and looks. He added the fact that Simon had been drinking and took a bike without brakes contributed to the fatal accident.
Shortly before 2 a.m. on Sept. 18, 2010, Simon left the Log Jam tavern in downtown Menomonie following an altercation with Britton that involved a group of Stout hockey players and others. After taking a bike from behind a house in the 100 block of Main Street, he was allegedly pushed by either Britton or Jedediah R. McGlasson, 21, a hockey recruit from Alaska, causing him to veer into a wall and fall off the bicycle.
Simon sustained a traumatic brain injury and died five days later at a hospital in Eau Claire. According to testimony during the trial, Simon’s blood alcohol was 0.225, nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08.
“This is a clear example of why college students should limit their drinking,” Gray said. About his client, he noted that Britton was an honor student at Stout, in addition to playing on the hockey team for three years before he was suspended following the accident. “He went to St. Cloud to continue his education. I think he hopes to return to Stout.”
Waiting for the verdict, Brad Simon’s father, Phil, shared his feelings. “There’s no winner here. … You’re going to have two families, extended families, that have a great loss -- that’s no matter how the outcome comes out. We appreciate what the district attorney’s office, the people of Menomonie, the school – we’re very appreciative of all our friends and family who have traveled here with us.”
Because of pending civil litigation by the Simon family, the Brittons declined a request for an interview. The trial of McGlasson on charges of party to the crimes of felony murder and aggravated battery is set to begin Aug. 9.
Kicking off his closing arguments, Dunn County District Attorney James Peterson told the jury what was not an issue as they sift through the evidence to determine whether is meets the burden of proof.
“First of all, there is no question that Brad Simon lost his life,” the DA said, noting that Simon’s death occurred as a result of the earlier altercation in the Log Jam. “Second, nobody’s going to dispute that Brad Simon lost his life as a result of the bicycle he was riding colliding with a wall and falling, suffering a traumatic brain injury.”
Peterson likened the group of hockey players, visitors and friends in the Log Jam to a pack of wolves, “threatening, trying to intimidate and they certainly were scaring Brad Simon. … His friends were concerned for his safety.”
He didn’t deny that Simon made poor choices on the night of Sept. 18. “That’s what alcohol does to people. … It reduces their judgment, makes them do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.
Peterson made it a point of reminding the jury about the 100 shots of liquor Britton purchased for the group. “They’re getting riled up,” he said. “Some of them are saying, ‘Let’s fight!’ They had Brad surrounded.”
With members of the group seen lingering on the sidewalk in front of the Log Jam, Simon and Joe Scanlin planned to exit at the back of the bar. Peterson noted that rather than wanting to fight, video footage showed Simon running across the Log Jam’s backyard patio at 1:58 a.m. to get away.
The D.A. described Log Jam bouncer J.D. Kuehn as the only witness to the incident. He urged the jury to take into consideration the lies told by Britton from the beginning: “The first big lie was in the bathroom, telling his teammate, Eric Scovill that there’s someone that wants to fight him. … Did Brad Simon going out on the patio look like someone who wanted to fight him?
“Then there were the lies to [hometown friend and fellow Stout student] Jacquelyn Holmes on the phone, telling her he had no idea what happened. … She was there; she knew the defendant and some of his associates were responsible for causing what happened to Brad.
“Then there were the lies to Officer Mroczenski that he didn’t know what happened to the guy, that he ran around the corner, there was the guy lying in the street. He denies he even talked to Jacquelyn Holmes on the phone until the officer shows him there’s a six-minute phone call logged.
“Then the defendant wants to come back the next day to tell a different story – first to the Stout administrators. His motivation there was clear. He was concerned about the university, concerned about whether he was going to be kicked off the hockey team … what’s going to happen to Jed McGlasson, somebody he got wrapped up into this frenzy along with him.”
“Cool as a cucumber, does all the talking and goes to the police … smooth, talking to Officer Pellett about what happened – essentially more lies – that they were just walking around the corner of the Acoustic and this guy comes riding at us on his bicycle. Jed recognized him as the guy from the bar then took a couple of steps forward, gave him a little push and he hit the curb and he crashed.
Both Britton and McGlasson, Peterson said, “were like two wolves working together. … If there’s a mistake as to who did the shove, they’re still guilty as a party to a crime.”
Quoting Rudyard Kipling, Peterson concluded, “The strength of the pack is in the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is in the pack.”
Matter of credibility
Earl Gray questioned Log Jam bouncer JD Kuehn’s credibility as an eyewitness to the events leading to the crash. Pointing out that there were no marks on Simon’s face, he added that although there was no evidence of hair, skin or blood on the wall, Kuehn repeatedly testified seeing Simon hit the wall face first following the collision.
“Mr. Kuehn says he was out in front … and he saw a group of guys going towards the north on Broadway,” Gray told the jury. “Then he gets to the corner, and he claims that he saw Brad Simon 200 feet away on an unlit, dark street with one light on the light pole – and he recognizes him coming up the street. He had only seen [him] once before in the bar. How can he say that? It’s impossible.”
Regarding criminal intent to cause great bodily harm to Simon, Gray referenced the Britton and McGlasson’s meeting at Stout before Britton’s second interview with Investigator Dave Pellett the morning of the incident. “If Jedediah McGlasson would never have sat down in front of three administrators at a school and said he was the one who pushed him [Simon] if he didn’t. ... You can argue and argue and argue about a pack of wolves, but the individual who pushed him said the bike came at him, corroborated by my client in his statements.”
Gray added that one of the administrators, Joe Crier, testified that he perceived McGlasson’s description of the push as one of self defense.
About Simon’s conduct in the Log Jam, Gray described him as “jawing” with the members of Britton’s coterie the whole time he was in the bar. As far as describing the group as a wolf pack, Gray said, “These are college kids, not gangsters. They were out having a good time. Unfortunately, a tragic, tragic accident happened. You can’t put the blame on Mr. Britton.”