Man receives 5 years in brawl death | RecordCourier.com
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Man receives 5 years in brawl death

by Sheila Gardner

Michael Ward was sentenced Monday to five years in prison for his part in the death of a Woodfords man last summer after a brawl in the Gardnerville Ranchos.

The 22-year-old Gardnerville man must serve a minimum of 2 years before he is eligible for parole.

Handcuffed and wearing orange and blue jail garb, Ward turned to face the family and friends of the victim, Jeffrey John, 24.

“I’m sorry,” Ward said, at one point choking back tears. “I wish it had never happened. One day we’ll all be together in heaven, I hope. I don’t hate you guys and I hope you don’t hate me. I have love in my heart. I’m sorry.”

Prosecutor Dina Salvucci had asked for the maximum on all three counts to be served consecutively which would have totaled 14-1/2 years.

District Judge Michael Gibbons imposed the sentences concurrently.

Ward was convicted Dec. 7 by a jury of five men and seven women of battery with a deadly weapon, involuntary manslaughter and misdemeanor battery in connection with John’s death.

The victim’s body was found June 24 in a yard at the intersection of Tillman and Zinfandel.

A coroner’s report said John died of cardiac arrhythmia – an irregular heartbeat – following an altercation with Ward who chased him with a knife and cut him, according to witnesses.

Ronald Mogab, pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Minden, testified Monday he had been meeting weekly with Ward for about 3 1/2 months and had seen a change.

“Originally, he had some personal issues about his standing with the Lord,” Mogab said. “His main concern was could God ever forgive him for what he did. The first two or three times, he said, ‘I was just defending myself. I was just defending myself.’

“Amazingly, on his own, he has become concerned about the other person’s family. He wanted to approach the other family to apologize.”

Eventually, Mogab said, Ward was able to acknowledge the family’s loss and his role in it.

He said once Ward has served his sentence, he wants to leave the area and work in the oil industry.

Mogab said Ward told him he was through with drugs and alcohol.

“He wants to have a fresh start,” Mogab said.

John’s aunt, Karen Lundy who raised the victim from age 3, wept as she addressed the judge about the loss to the family.

“It’s a great cost,” she said. “It has affected our whole community. We’re not just one person, we’re a whole community. Jeff will never be here again. Michael Ward talked about moving away, starting over. Jeff will never have his chance. His children will never see him again.”

John was the father of four children.

“Whatever sentence the court imposes, that person will walk out of prison,” Gibbons said. “The person who died is never coming back.”

Gibbons said he believed Ward’s remorse was genuine.

“You have to live your life for Mr. John and his family,” Gibbons said. “You have to make a positive contribution.”

Ward’s lawyer, Kevin Walsh, said Ward and John both were victims of their lifestyles of fighting and drinking alcohol.

“The cause of death wasn’t from a knife or a fist,” Walsh said. “The cause of death was the lifestyle Michael and his friends were living and Jeff John and some of his friends,” Walsh said.

Eyewitnesses to the altercation testified that Ward and John began fighting in the living room of a Gardnerville Ranchos duplex and took the fight outside, Ward arming himself with a knife.

John’s body was found in a yard 330 feet from the home on Zinfandel.

“This was all alcohol-fueled,” Gibbons said. “Day after day I see cases like this. It’s so sad. It’s a waste.

“Mr. John, unfortunately, had a weak heart and liver that made him vulnerable,” Gibbons said. “If Mr. Ward hadn’t done what he did, Mr. John would be alive today.”

Ward was given credit for 199 days he had spent in Douglas County jail as of Monday.