During a plea hearing filled with a tearful apology, a Brainerd man accused of the death of another Brainerd man in August after an altercation in downtown Brainerd was convicted of manslaughter Tuesday in Crow Wing District Court.
Bradley Thomas Lewis, 25, entered a plea of guilty to first-degree manslaughter before Judge Earl Maus. In exchange, charges of second-degree unintentional murder, first-degree assault, second-degree manslaughter and third-degree assault were dismissed. A jury trial in this case had been scheduled to begin Wednesday.
Lewis was sentenced by Maus to one year jail and placed on 15 years supervised probation. He has been in custody since his arrest in mid-August, shortly after the assault. He was not given credit for time served toward the probationary jail time. Should he violate terms of probation, he could face up to 98 months prison. The sentence was a downward departure from sentencing guidelines.
The victim, Chad Charles Campbell, 39, suffered a serious head injury as a result of the attack, which occurred Aug. 14 in downtown Brainerd. He died Aug. 19 in St. Cloud Hospital.
Alcohol was a factor in the assault. Both men had been drinking.
In an interview Tuesday night, Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan said, "Based on the overall facts of this case, this seemed like a reasonable outcome and justice was served."
Ryan said Lewis was amenable to probation, accepted responsibility for his actions and expressed his remorse. Ryan also said this plea agreement gives the victim's family members, many of whom live in Georgia, closure in a matter that has been especially stressful for them.
Before the plea was accepted, Ryan said Campbell's mother, Tena Williams, stepfather and a 17-year-old daughter, all of Georgia, addressed the court. Ryan had been in discussions since Saturday in Brainerd with the family members, who had traveled here for a possible trial. Until they addressed the court, Ryan was unsure of the position the family would take in regard to the plea agreement. In an interview, Ryan noted what a difficult decision this was for Campbell's family.
The mother and stepfather said they didn't want to be involved in a plea, a trial or be in a courtroom here at all, Ryan recalled of their comments to the court. He said they ultimately told the judge they accepted the plea agreement.
The daughter told the judge she disagreed with the plea agreement. In an insightful statement, the daughter said she wanted the case to go to trial to put the outcome in God's hands, Ryan said.
Maus accepted the plea agreement.
Before sentencing, Lewis offered an apology to the Campbell family, Ryan said. "He was crying."
Ryan said Lewis didn't intend to kill anyone that night, he may have thought he was breaking up a fight and that a jury may have been asked to determine whether the punch thrown was an act in self-defense.
Lewis told the family he was sorry. Reading from a piece of paper and while crying throughout, Lewis told the court he knows violence is not the answer and that he is a changed man, Ryan said.
Now as a result of the plea agreement, "people can hopefully find closure," Ryan said. "I think this is an appropriate outcome in this case."
After the plea agreement was accepted, Campbell's family also addressed the court to make victim impact statements. When they first addressed the court, it was only to address the proposed plea agreement.
The family members, in a soft-spoken manner speaking directly before the judge's bench, detailed how Campbell's death affected their lives.
Attorney Edward Hellekson, representing Lewis as a public defender, also addressed the court before sentencing and cited statistics in regard to the common occurrence of a downward departure in first-degree manslaughter cases, Ryan said.
According to the criminal complaint:
• Brainerd police officers were called at 1:25 a.m. Aug. 14 to an assault near Seventh and Front streets.
• Officers learned Campbell and an older man were involved in a verbal altercation. As bystanders attempted to separate the two men, Lewis appeared. He took off his shirt and tried to get at Campbell, who was calling Lewis names. Lewis was yelling at Campbell "that he was gonna hurt him and that he was gonna mess him up."
• A witness said Campbell asked Lewis why he was trying to hit him and explaining that Lewis had nothing to do with the situation. Witnesses indicated that Campbell "seemed like he did not want to fight and had his hands up in a defensive manner when (Lewis) ran around a group of people, struck Mr. Campbell one time on the side of the head knocking him to the ground and rendering him unconscious. At that point, (Lewis) left the scene."
In court, Lewis outlined how he thought he was breaking up a fight and how he thought his action was in self-defense that night.
KATHI NAGORSKI may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5859.
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