WINNIPEG — It’s the type of scenario that can become all too common when you mix alcohol with testosterone: A perceived slight, a few heated words and suddenly the fists start flying.
And it’s the exact type of situation that can have deadly consequences.
Now, for the second time this year, a Winnipeg jury has found no criminal wrongdoing in a one-punch bar fight that ended in tragedy.
Nicholas Somers, 29, wiped away tears and embraced sobbing family members Friday afternoon after being found not guilty of manslaughter for the July 2010 tragedy at Bar Italia on Corydon Avenue. Deliberations had started Thursday afternoon following an eight-day trial.
Jurors clearly accepted the claim by Somers that he acted in self-defence. Gary Rent, 33, a University of Manitoba graduate student, died after being punched in the head, falling to the ground, landing hard on the pavement and suffering a traumatic brain injury.
Most of the facts were not in dispute. But Crown and defence lawyers presented vastly different takes on the evidence during closing arguments.
Somers, a former bouncer, claims he had no choice but to act out after Rent came to the bar looking for a fight and refused to relent. The victim’s brother-in-law, Darren Colomy, was also working at the bar and testified Rent, a trained boxer, was angry about a personal family issue and repeatedly challenged him as the bar closed that night.
Somers testified in his own defence, telling jurors Rent made him feel threatened and he was just trying to protect himself, Colomy and others at the bar. He denied the Crown’s suggestion he “sucker-punched” the much smaller Rent.
“Mr. Somers is not being honest. You can’t rely on what he says,” Crown attorney Chantal Boutin argued in her final statement. She said Rent posed little threat to anyone, largely due to his drunken state. An autopsy revealed he was at twice the legal alcohol limit to drive a car.
Colomy, whom the Crown described as a “mountain of a man who outweighed Rent by more than 100 pounds,” admitted he never felt as if his safety was at risk and thought he could have defused the situation on his own. He said Rent was “shadowboxing” with him but never actually laid a hand on him.
The case has many similarities to that of former University of Manitoba Bisons football player Jeremy Botelho. Jurors found him not guilty of manslaughter last June, agreeing with his claim that it was a case of “fight or flight” when he got into a confrontation on the dance floor of a city bar.
Botelho, 25, never disputed he was responsible for the April 2010 death of Kelly Clay inside the Nor-Villa Motor Hotel on Henderson Highway. His fate boiled down to whether he had the legal right to act as he did.
» Winnipeg Free Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 6, 2012