Eyeball falls out in court, mistrial declared

An ocular prosthetic, better known as a glass eye. (File photo)
An ocular prosthetic, better known as a glass eye. (File photo)
Posted: February 07, 2013

Let it now be recorded in the annals of the U.S. justice system: a Philadelphia trial has ended in mistrial by eyeball.

It was the assault trial Commonwealth v. Brunelli, involving an early morning fight outside the New Princeton Tavern in Burholme where one punch cost John Huttick his left eye.

Huttick, 48, was on the witness stand Wednesday, weeping as he told the Common Pleas Court jury about the impact of losing an eye when he literally lost his eye.

Two jurors, seated feet away, gasped and started to rise as if they wanted to leave. Huttick caught the $3,000 prosthetic blue eye and cried out.

"I couldn't believe it just came out," said Huttick after Judge Robert P. Coleman granted the mistrial motion by defense attorney Eileen Hurley.

Coleman set a new trial for March 4 and, with judicial understatement, declared it an "unfortunate, unforeseen incident."

For Huttick, a tall, burly red-haired man who once worked as a bouncer at the New Princeton Tavern, the trial's bizarre end was just another chapter in his life's downslide since the Aug. 18, 2011 fight.

According to Assistant District Attorney Mark Gilson, the incident occurred after 2:30 a.m. involving a group of people, including Huttick and alleged assailant Matthew Brunelli, a 23-year-old cook, drinking inside the New Princeton Tavern.

Gilson said Brunelli left the bar first with a girlfriend but got into an argument with another bar patron that turned into a fight in the parking lot of the bar in the 7100 block of Rising Sun Avenue.

Somebody relayed the news to people still inside the tappy and Huttick came out to intervene.

As Huttick tried to separate Brunelli and his opponent, Gilson continued, Brunelli threw a punch that hit Huttick's left eye.

Hurley, Brunelli's attorney, said her client struck Huttick with a fist.

Hurley said Brunelli did not use a weapon and struck in self defense when he encountered the much larger Huttick getting involved in the altercation.

Gilson, however, alleged that Brunelli hit Huttick with a metal key protruding from between his fingers.

"He was stabbed," added Gilson, who said Huttick's eyeball was pierced, bisected and collapsed and the orbital bone around the eye broken.

Huttick, who is suing both Brunelli and the New Princeton Tavern, said the injury and impaired vision cost him his job at another bar. He said his depression nearly ended his relationship with his girlfriend and emptied his bank account.

"A year later I have no place to live and I ran out of money," Huttick added.


Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or @joeslobo on Twitter.

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