Retrial begins in 'eye-popping' assault case

Posted: March 08, 2013

NO BODY PARTS came tumbling out, but there was still plenty of drama Wednesday in Common Pleas Court as the aggravated-assault retrial of Matthew Brunelli unfolded.

Prosecutors have accused Brunelli, 23, of punching onetime bouncer John "Big Red" Huttick in the left eye with an object - possibly a car key - outside a Burholme bar on Aug. 18, 2011, leaving Huttick with a gruesome wound that ultimately caused the eyeball to be removed.

A mistrial was granted in February after Huttick's glass eye shockingly popped out while he wept on the witness stand.

Brunelli's attorney, Eileen Hurley, tried unsuccessfully to persuade Judge Robert P. Coleman to grant another mistrial Wednesday after Assistant District Attorney Mark Gilson likened Brunelli to the "Incredible Hulk" during his opening statement to the jury.

Hurley was also irate because Gilson said that Brunelli had " 'roid rage" when he punched Huttick after decking Brian Clerkin, an off-duty Philly cop, and one of Clerkin's friends outside the New Princeton Tavern on Rising Sun Avenue.

Hurley said the statements had tainted jurors' opinions of Brunelli.

Coleman didn't approve the motion for the mistrial, but did ask that the reference to " 'roid rage" be banned from both sides during the remainder of the trial.

Hurley said Clerkin relentlessly hit on Brunelli's girlfriend at the bar. Hurley said one of Clerkin's buddies challenged Brunelli to a fight because he felt emboldened by the fact that the Princeton is a "cop bar."

Gilson said that Huttick went outside and tried to intervene after Brunelli, a physical trainer, knocked down Clerkin and his pal.

Brunelli, Gilson said, was "in a rage" and "sucker-punched [Huttick] in the eye with a sharp object." Four months later, Huttick's mangled eye was removed by surgeons.

Hurley said Brunelli had used his fist to defend himself.

- Staff writer Angelo Fichera

contributed to this report.

On Twitter: @dgambacorta


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