A 17-year-old accused of causing the death of another teen told police he feared for his life when he threw a single punch, according to evidence presented in a bench trial that began Monday.
Jacob J. Arter, an 18-year-old from Breese, died after he was battered Sunday, April 23 at a rural clubhouse in Clinton County, where upwards of 100 high school and college kids had gathered to drink and play beer pong. The 17-year-old was later charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Family of both teenagers filled the courtroom Monday, with the defendant sitting quietly, dressed in a suit, next to defense attorney C.J. Baricevic. Arter’s family remained silent and listened to testimony from 14 witnesses.
Special prosecutor David Rands called at least seven witnesses who said they were at the party, and some said they saw Arter and the boy arguing at one point during the night and again a little more than an hour later. Arter had his hands in his pockets, some witnesses said, and told the other boy he did not want to fight.
“Jacob wanted nothing to do with it,” said one of Arter’s best friends, Tanner Huegen, 18, adding that Arter did not raise his hands.
The other boy appeared to partially turn away from Arter, then turned back around and punched him, Huegen said. Huegen said he was standing next to Arter when the boy threw the punch.
Arter collapsed onto the ground, apparently unconscious, witnesses said. One witness said the boy jumped on Arter, but Huegen said he tackled the boy.
The BND is not naming the defendant because he is charged as a juvenile and is being tried in juvenile court.
The boy’s defense attorney argued Arter’s death was “extremely unfortunate, but also extremely unforeseeable.”
Baricevic said multiple teens at the party broke out into a “melee” after the punch, but none of them were charged.
“To suggest one punch constitutes manslaughter would subject each kid to those charges,” Baricevic said.
Rands also showed in court a video recording of police interrogating the boy after the party.
The recording shows the boy admitting to police he threw the punch, but he also told Clinton County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Voss he thought on the night of the party, “These kids are out to kill me.”
One witness, a 16-year-old who said he was one of the juvenile’s best friends, said in court that he had heard Arter was looking to fight with the boy.
“I heard there was going to be a fight,” the 16-year-old said. “I told (the boy) to watch his back.”
The boy told the deputy during interrogation that Arter had an open knife in his pocket during their first argument, which stemmed from a previous argument at school. The boy said he took the knife from Arter’s pocket and threw it into the woods. Other witnesses described similar circumstances in court.
“What if he decided to stick me with it?” the boy said during the interrogation. “The first thing in my mind was to hit him ... maybe he has another knife.”
When the boy approached Arter a second time later that night to confront him about the knife, Arter had his hands in his pockets, the boy told the deputy. When Arter removed his hands from his pockets, the boy punched him once in the jaw area, the boy said.
“He was out cold, like, out,” the boy told Voss.
A few of Arter’s friends took him to a friend’s truck, another witness said. When they saw his nose was bleeding, they decided to take him to a hospital, roughly a half-hour after he was punched. Arter was brought to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Breese at 1:35 a.m. and was later pronounced dead at 2:24 a.m.
An autopsy revealed he had died of blunt force trauma to the head.
“I really do hope that kid’s okay,” the boy said during the interrogation, not knowing Arter had died.
“He’s not alright,” Voss told him.
“He’s not?” the boy replied.
When the deputy asked him during interrogation what he would do if he could for Arter, the boy said, “I’d do everything I could to get him out of the hospital.”
The boy asked later, “Do you think I will get in trouble?”
“I think you will get in trouble,” Voss replied.
The trial was expected to continue Tuesday with closing arguments and possibly testimony from the teen accused of manslaughter. Associate Judge Ericka Sanders was expected to reach a finding Tuesday.
Previous coverage of the case by the BND: