Eyeball-dropping testimony leads to Philly mistrial

Posted: February 08, 2013

IN THE blink of an eye Wednesday, an aggravated-assault trial was derailed on its first day after the victim's glass eye popped out on the witness stand.

Right into his hand.

Jurors gasped as a weeping John "Big Red" Huttick caught his fake peeper. Defense attorney Eileen Hurley demanded a mistrial, which Common Pleas Judge Robert P. Coleman granted.

"It was shocking and unexpected. He caught it in his hand and sort of held it there," Hurley said.

The mistrial was needed because, she said, "something as disruptive as that is a bell that could not be unrung. It could cause the jury to have undue sympathy for [Huttick] and undue prejudice to the defendant."

The defendant, Matthew Brunelli, 23, is accused of punching Huttick in the left eye so hard during a bar fight in August 2011 that the eye had to be surgically removed.

Hurley said she had at least two witnesses who would have testified that Brunelli punched Huttick once in self-defense after being grabbed in a bear hug and kneed in the groin.

"This is a self-defense case. The complainant is 6-3, 315 pounds. He has over 100 pounds on Mr. Brunelli," Hurley said.

She and the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Mark Gilson, don't see eye-to-eye on whether Brunelli used a weapon.

Gilson contends that Brunelli hit Huttick with a sharp object, likely a car key.

"His left eye was punctured, his retina detached and there was a laceration above his eyebrow," said Gilson, who added that a seven-day stay at Wills Eye Hospital could not save Huttick's eye.

Not in dispute is that about 3 a.m., Brunelli, accompanied by his girlfriend, got into an argument with two men inside the New Princeton Tavern on Rising Sun Avenue in Burholme. The girlfriend was being hit on.

When the couple left, they were followed to the parking lot by the two men, who included off-duty Philly cop Brian Clerkin.

During the dustup, Brunelli, a 6-foot, 200-pound physical trainer, knocked Clerkin off his feet and knocked the other man out.

Huttick, 48, who had worked at the bar as a bouncer two years prior, came outside and got involved.

Gilson said Huttick was trying to break up the fight. Hurley said Huttick was a friend of the two men and came to join the attack on Brunelli.

"Mr. Huttick never laid a hand on the defendant. He didn't punch him and he wasn't involved in the fight. But he got close enough to Brunelli for him to stab him in the eye," Gilson said. "That's not self-defense. That is not, was not and never will be self-defense."

The case will be retried March 4. If convicted of aggravated assault, Brunelli, who is out on bail, could face 10 to 20 years in state prison.

At the time of the incident, Gilson said, Brunelli was on probation for theft and felony drug convictions.


On Twitter: @MensahDean

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