Jury acquits cook in brawl that cost a man his eye

Posted: March 14, 2013

A 23-year-old cook the prosecutor said used a key to stab out the eye of a bouncer intervening in a brawl outside a Burholme tavern was acquitted Wednesday by a Philadelphia jury.

The Common Pleas Court jury deliberated three hours before acquitting Matthew Brunelli of aggravated assault in the Aug. 18, 2011, incident involving John Huttick, 48, in the parking lot of the New Princeton Tavern.

Huttick was furious at the verdict. The first trial ended in a mistrial in February after Huttick's prosthetic eye fell out as he testified.

"This was all about cops, no one cared about me," Huttick said.

Huttick referred to defense attorney Eileen Hurley's strategy of attacking the police investigation of the assault. Hurley also argued that police tried to bury the case because the argument and fight also involved an off-duty officer.

Brunelli and his family left court immediately after the verdict.

Hurley praised the jury: "I always felt this was the right outcome."

Hurley never argued that Brunelli did not throw a punch, only that the outcome - Huttick's lost eye - was a freak occurrence.

Hurley called an eye surgeon who testified that Brunelli's closed-fist punch caused enough pressure to rupture Huttick's eyeball.

Assistant District Attorney Mark Gilson called his own medical expert, a city forensic pathologist, who testified that the perforation of Huttick's eyeball and breaking of the orbital bone could only have been done if Brunelli held an object in his fist.

That object, Gilson argued, was a key.

According to testimony, the fight began after 2:30 a.m. in the tavern parking lot at 7101 Rising Sun Ave.

Huttick, a bartender who formerly was a bouncer at New Princeton, said he was there that night for a friend's birthday party.

Huttick said Brunelli was part of a larger, louder crowd at the other end.

At 2:30, Huttick said, Brunelli's group got so loud and angry that the bartender evicted them.

Huttick said he was finishing his beer when he heard someone outside yell that a man was being kicked in the head.

Going outside, Huttick testified, he saw one man prone and another kneeling, trying to fix his glasses.

Brunelli and his girlfriend were walking away, Huttick said, but Brunelli suddenly turned and began screaming at him.

Huttick said he held up his hands and said, "Hey, chill, dude," then turned his head and asked a friend, "Is he the one?"

As he turned back to face Brunelli, Huttick testified, Brunelli punched him in the left eye.

"To this day, I don't know what it was," Huttick said, referring to an object he believes Brunelli held in his fist.

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

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