Cox, 24, who was charged with murder in connection with Weeks' beating death, was found guilty of aggravated assault, a fourth-degree felony, in Portage County Common Pleas Court. He faces six to 18 months in prison for the charge. A sentencing date has not been set.
Many members of Weeks' family and several of Cox's relatives and supporters clutched tissues near tears in the courtroom when the verdict was read. Cox embraced defense attorneys Joseph Giulitto and Robert Berger before hugging his wife, who was in tears, after the judge left the courtroom.
If found guilty of murder, Cox would have faced 15 years to life in prison.
Kainrad said he considered lesser charges of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter and felonious assault before rendering his decision this morning. Cox's six-day nonjury trial ended Wednesday.
"Not even a felonious assault," Weeks' mother, Charlene, said while trying to hold back tears after the trial. She said she knows more than one person was involved in her son's death but that Cox should spend time in prison to think about what he did.
"I'll even send him Ray's Bible while he's in there if it will help," she said.
Giulitto and Berger asserted during the trial that three others assaulted Weeks after he last saw Cox July 27, 1996. A resident of Ravenna Township's McElrath neighborhood, who the judge called highly credible, also testified about seeing five young men kick and stomp Cox about 10 hours before his body was found in a McElrath ditch July 28.
Assistant Portage County Prosecutors Eugene Muldowney and Paul Gallagher asserted the injuries that killed Weeks were a result of an altercation between Weeks and Cox.
Kainrad said he believes Cox did not intend to kill Weeks when the pair engaged in a bloody fight on an Interstate 76 on-ramp in Rootstown July 27, 1996.
"This court cannot find that (Cox's) actions could have caused the death of Ray Weeks," Kainrad said from the bench.
The judge explained how he arrived at his verdict, detailing that a murder conviction must be based on proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that the defendant acted with the intent to kill.
Kainrad also cited the testimony of former Summit County Coroner William Cox, who said the head wounds Weeks sustained to the top part of his skull and brain stem would have caused "massive bleeding."
Two witnesses, including a part-time Portage County Sheriff's deputy, testified about seeing Weeks walking around looking normal in McElrath more than an hour after Weeks and Cox fought on the on-ramp.
Cox confessed to striking Weeks because Weeks, who was driving Cox's car, didn't want to return to Kent when Cox wanted to. There was blood found inside Cox's sedan, which DNA test results proved to be Weeks'.
During the trial, Giulitto and Berger contended Cox was acting in self defense when the fight occurred. Kainrad dismissed the self defense notion, saying Cox was not in fear of his life or of great bodily harm when he acted as the aggressor, picked up the flashlight and hit Weeks.
"This defendant was attempting to take back control of the vehicle for whatever reason," Kainrad said. "He started hitting Mr. Weeks with the Mag-lite while the car was in motion before he was bitten on the right ear on the opposite side to the driver."
Cox left Weeks on the freeway after the fight and returned to Kent with a bloodied bite mark on his right ear. Cox went to the Kent Police Department and then the Portage County Sheriff's Office to report the fight, admitting to authorities after several interviews that he began hitting Weeks in the car.
"Somehow Mr. Weeks ended up in McElrath Park," Kainrad said. "(Cox) didn't continue to pursue him even though he had the advantage."
He also said Weeks' "serious provocation" sent Cox into a "fit of rage," ruling out the possibility of a felonious assault conviction, which cannot be found if the defendant was provoked.