Man acquitted in mistaken ID beating case in Palm Beach Gardens
By DAPHNE DURET
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Friday, Dec. 9, 2011
WEST PALM BEACH — Though the facts all appeared to be on his side, Jeremy Patri sweated through the half hour he waited for the jury’s verdict.
The main witnesses against him in his battery trial this week were two people who had already wrongly implicated another man in the November 2009 beating outside the Noche Nightclub in Palm Beach Gardens. Even police officers who were on the scene had testified that Patri did not appear to have been involved.
In the two years since he’d been fighting the charges Patri wondered why he was ever arrested in the first place. But as the jurors walked out with their verdict in hand, the prospect of up to two years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit horrified the 25-year-old. Then he heard the words he’d been trying to tell anyone who would listen since 2009: Not guilty.
“I felt like there was a hundred pounds of weight lifted off my chest,” Patri said.
Patri was originally charged with attempted murder and aggravated battery. He turned himself in to police in December 2009, a month after witnesses implicated him and another man, Joseph Fusco, in the near fatal beating of Chris Bell and the attack on Ryan Graham outside the club.
Although two witnesses picked Fusco out of a photo lineup and said he participated in the beating, he was able to produce a mountain of evidence to show that he had been out of the state the entire weekend. The same witnesses said Patri also participated in the attack.
Prosecutors dropped the charges against Fusco after he produced alibi witnesses from his hunting trip in Eastman, Ga. But they continued a case against Patri, though in January 2010 they downgraded the charges against him to two counts of misdemeanor battery.
Patri’s attorney, Darren Shull, said that prosecutors at one point offered Patri a plea agreement that would involve probation, but Patri declined the offer.
“He was there, but he wasn’t involved,” Shull said. “He maintained that from the beginning and remained strong in that. I think a less strong person might have accepted the offer.”
In Patri’s trial this week, Shull said prosecutors called the same two witnesses who misidentified Fusco to testify against Patri. Graham said he covered Bell with his own body to fend off blows from the attackers, but Shull said he presented evidence at the trial to show that is was actually Joshua Patri, Jeremy Patri’s brother, who intervened to stop the attack.
Palm Beach Gardens police officers on the scene after the attack also testified that Patri had no blood on his clothing and did not appear to have been involved in the attack.
Jurors began deliberating the case late Thursday at the end of a two day trial. Shull said they came back with the acquittals after less than 40 minutes of deliberation.
State Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Alsofrom said prosecutors in the case weren’t available for comment Friday.
As a result of the fight, Bell suffered a skull fracture, bleeding on his brain, and permanent loss of hearing in his right ear.
Jurors in the case said the decision to acquit came immediately.
“We certainly felt bad for the victims. But there was more than just reasonable doubt in this case. There was all kind of doubt,” jury foreman Scott Cadmus said.
Patri said two of the jurors after the verdict shook his hand and told him they wished him well. On Friday he said the warm gestures went a long way towards helping him heal from what has been a painful ordeal.
“I knew the jurors would see through the Mickey Mouse case they brought through and all the mistakes,” he said. “I don’t think they realize how much you hurt someone when you take them through something like this for something they didn’t do.”
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