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Judge: Assault was racially motivated

By Micah PanczykRecord-Courier staff writer Published: April 30, 1998 12:00 AM

"The victim has suffered serious physical harm in a crime motivated by racial prejudice," said Portage County Common Pleas Judge John Enlow, echoing the prosecution's view that Stark, an African-American, was a victim of racial hatred. "The defendant has done time in the penitentiary before and has previously failed to respond favorably to probation."

Stark, a Ravenna resident, did not attend the hearing but requested in a letter that Enlow issue the maximum eight-year sentence.

"I'm truly sorry for what happened that night," said Nicholas, who would call the sentence Enlow issued "ludicrous." "I was under the influence of an alcohol-induced blackout, and the evil demons that accompanied it."

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Nicholas grabbed Stark from behind and sliced a 5 1/2- inch gash across his throat Dec. 2 after the pair scuffled outside the defendant's residence, according to police reports, said Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci. The two had been drinking at the Windham Tavern with Canal Fulton resident Aaron Crites, Stark's friend and the defendant's cousin, Vigluicci said.

Windham police recovered from Nicholas' residence the 6 1/2-inch blade flecked with blood _ an oversight that assured Nicholas' arrest that night, Vigluicci said. Subsequent DNA tests confirmed the blood had been drawn from Stark's neck.

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Nicholas was charged June 22 with attempted murder and felonious assault. At trial, a jury returned a hung, 11-1 verdict on the first count and found him guilty on the second count, a second-degree felony that carries a prison sentence of two to eight years, Vigluicci said.

Assistant Portage County Prosecutor Mark Hanna sought a seven- to eight-year sentence, arguing that Stark was a victim of racial hatred.

"The victim was grabbed from behind and had a knife run across his throat in a crime clearly motivated by his race," Hanna said. "The victim did nothing to provoke the attack except to be an African-American. The victim was in fact assisting Nicholas."

Stark had been trying to aid an "extremely intoxicated" Nicholas from Crites' vehicle just moments before Stark was knifed, according to police reports, Vigluicci said.

At the time of the assault, Nicholas was out on bail for three independent offenses, among them cutting off the head of a cat in front of children April 8, 1997, Hanna said. Defense attorney Errol Can objected, however _ an objection Enlow sustained.

Can argued that, while alcohol does not excuse Nicholas, "it was, in fact, a reason for his behavior that night _ like it or not."

"Although my client was extremely intoxicated, neither he nor I offer this as an excuse for his actions," Can said. "But we offer it (the defendant's intoxication) so that the court can differentiate between him and those that act with a clear mind."

Can also argued that Stark's wound was more superficial than the prosecution had asserted initially and said the victim was treated and released from Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna in less than two hours. The defense sought a sentence "in accordance with the matters we have discussed here."

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