A man accused of attempted murder will be held to answer on three charges following a short preliminary hearing on Friday morning.
Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Timothy Canning found there is sufficient evidence to hold Erick Battersby for trial on three charges related to a violent altercation at a McKinleyville residence in December 2016. The charges include attempted murder, making terroristic threats and assault with a deadly weapon. While he was originally charged with five felonies, two were dismissed.
Battersby is accused of attacking the father of his girlfriend and attempting to slice his throat.
Deputy District Attorney Luke Bernthal called just one witness to the stand, District Attorney Investigator Tim Cooke who interviewed the victim, Mark Minton, 63, on Thursday.
Under questioning from Bernthal, Cooke said Minton positively identified Battersby as his assailant through a photograph and then described the incident that occurred in the early morning hours of Dec. 3, 2016, at a residence on Chub Lane in McKinleyville.
“He said he was asleep on the couch in McKinleyville and awoke to a knife on his neck,” Cooke testified.
Cooke was asked if Minton could identify the assailant.
“He said it was his daughter’s boyfriend, Erick Battersby,” Cooke testified.
Bernthal walked Cooke through the interview he conducted with Minton and at one point asked him how Minton described the incident.
“He said he felt the knife slice into his neck and he grabbed the hand that held the knife and they engaged in battle,” Cooke said. “He said (Minton) got control of the knife when others in the residence came to see what was happening.”
Bernthal then asked Cooke if Minton reported any conversation between Battersby and Minton.
“‘I’m going to kill you for what you did to us,’” Cooke testified Minton said, apparently referring to an earlier dispute between Minton, Battersby and Minton’s daughter.
At his first preliminary hearing in February 2017, Minton testified that Battersby not only tried to slice his throat, he also attempted to force a thumb into his eye, something Cooke reiterated at Friday’s hearing.
“He said Mr. Battersby put his thumb in his eye and was punching him, I believe in the face,” Cooke said and when asked if the fight was life or death added, “He said it was.”
Battersby was in court for a second preliminary hearing because in January the court found that his constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated when the district attorney’s office failed to bring him to trial within 60 days of the original hearing.
The charges were re-filed by Bernthal that same day and the criminal process was restarted with Friday’s hearing.
Under cross-examination from defense attorney Rusell Clanton, Cooke was asked about Minton’s actions following the altercation. Cooke said Minton told him “he took a shower, changed clothes and went to the hospital.”
Clanton asked questions about how both men had ended up at the residence on Chub Lane, whether any of the others in the house were involved in the incident and about any medical treatment Minton had sought following the fight.
Clanton wrapped up by arguing to Canning the prosecution had failed to provide enough evidence any crimes occurred.
“All of us in this courtroom understand the burden of proof at a prelim compared to a trial is lower and even here the people have pulled up significantly short of that standard,” Clanton said. “It’s difficult to say there is no evidence. These things (Minton’s and Battersby’s injuries) happened, but it’s a stretch when you’re asking for a holding order for attempted murder. There is no supporting evidence for any of these counts, no background and I had hoped they would put on something that at least approximates evidence.”
Despite Clanton’s arguments, Canning held Battersby to answer to the three counts — the charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and making terroristic threats.
Following the hearing, Bernthal said the interview between Cooke and Minton led to the dismissal of one of the charges. However, Bernthal said one of the charges may be reintroduced.
“(Count) three was dropped because when officer Cooke interviewed Mr. Minton yesterday, Mr. Minton stated he was not afraid when Mr. Battersby threatened him and that required we prove he was in fear of a substantial threat,” Bernthal said, adding, “and so once he gave that statement, we cannot pursue that charge.”
As to the other charge, Bernthal said, “Judge Canning declined to hold the defendant to answer because he did not feel that there was sufficient evidence from Mr. Minton’s statement that the defendant was in the home where this incident occurred unlawfully. We still have the option to pursue that charge and we’ll evaluate the transcript and decide what we want to do with that.”
Clanton remained unconvinced the prosecution had met its burden of proof and remains confident Battersby will win at trial.
“The two counts that were dismissed by the court were appropriately dismissed; there just wasn’t any evidence to that,” Clanton said following the hearing. “The evidence to the balance of the charges is, as I indicated, rock soup. There wasn’t any carrots or celery in that, so we look forward to trial where we can address all the counts and do so in a way that we explore all of the evidence and the ultimate result will be that Mr. Battersby will be acquitted.”
Battersby, who appeared in court wearing a jail-issued red jumpsuit and seated at the defense table with Clanton, will be back in court for an arraignment on information Feb. 25.
Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.