Gardnerville man convicted in Ranchos death
Michael Ward was convicted Wednesday of involuntary manslaughter and two other counts in connection with the death of a Woodfords man last summer after a fatal fight in the Gardnerville Ranchos.
The jury returned their verdict at about 7:20 p.m.
Jurors deliberated five hours before returning to the courtroom and finding the 22-year-old Gardnerville man guilty of battery with a deadly weapon, involuntary manslaughter and misdemeanor battery in connection with the June 23 death of Jeffrey John.
District Judge Michael Gibbons set sentencing for Jan. 23 and ordered Ward held without bail.
He faces up to 14-1/2 years in prison and $16,000 in fines.
Ward’s mother, Donna Bevilla, stormed out of the courtroom as the verdicts were read.
“Wait until it happens to their family. I’m leaving,” she said as she walked out of the courtroom.
Friends and relatives of the defendant sobbed as the verdicts were read.
Ward was accused of cutting John with a knife, hitting and kicking him and killing him during the commission of an unlawful act, after a brawl in the Gardnerville Ranchos.
Ward did not testify during the trial, but proclaimed his innocence during a closing statement by prosecutor Dina Salvucci earlier Wednesday.
Salvucci was arguing why jurors should reject the claim of self-defense when Ward interrupted.
“I’m sorry, your honor. I was in fear for my life,” Ward said.
Lawyer Kevin Walsh traded places with his legal assistant and sat next to Ward, quieting the suspect and putting his arm around him.
“Two guys beat me,” Ward said as Judge Michael Gibbons told him to be quiet and directed the jury to disregard the outburst.
John died of cardiac arrhythmia brought on by an irregular heartbeat.
Ward pleaded not guilty to the charges, claiming he acted in self-defense.
Eyewitnesses to the fight testified that Ward and John began fighting in the living room of a Gardnerville Ranchos duplex and that they took the fight outside, Ward arming himself with a knife.
John’s body was found in a yard 330 feet away from the residence on Zinfandel.
Showing jurors a 2-by-3-foot enlargement of John’s face from an autopsy photo, Salvucci said Ward acted in anger and revenge after the victim reportedly punched him in the eye.
She said Ward’s decision to go after John with a knife removed the suspect from the protection of self-defense.
“You don’t get to bring a knife into a fistfight,” Salvucci said. “Fistfights end in black eyes and bloody noses.”
She showed the jury a picture of Ward after the fight with the beginnings of a black eye.
“Here is Mike,” she said. “He’s going to have a black eye. If he bled from it, you can’t tell because he had to opportunity to wash himself off.”
The autopsy photo of John showed a bloody face, broken nose, swollen lips and a cut between his eyes.
“Here’s Jeff John after the fight,” she said. “He’s dead. He died from a cardiac arrhythmia because he’s being threatened by a knife.”
Walsh reiterated a heart specialist’s testimony from Tuesday that John’s death was brought on by an enlarged heart, a fatty liver and the fact that he weighed 260 pounds.
Walsh recreated a scenario he said eyewitnesses provided showing that Ward was fighting to defend himself from John and his uncle Aaron Lundy who weighed 350 pounds.
“When (John) picked up Michael Ward, and threw him on the ground, what do you think was going through Michael’s veins? He was on the floor trapped under 610 pounds of drunken fury,” Walsh said.
Walsh tried to advance his argument that the district attorney’s office prosecuted only Ward out of consideration for the American Indian community, but Gibbons cut him off when Salvucci objected.
John was a member of the Washoe Tribe.
Gibbons previously dismissed a motion to have the charges thrown out on that basis.