A Clinton County teen was found guilty on Tuesday of involuntary manslaughter for throwing a single punch that killed another teen — an event described as a tragedy by both the prosecutor and defense attorney.
Jacob J. Arter, an 18-year-old from Breese, died after he was punched Sunday, April 23 at a rural clubhouse in Clinton County, where upward of 100 high school and college kids had gathered to drink and play beer pong. The 17-year-old who threw the punch was later charged with involuntary manslaughter.
The 17-year-old had no visible reaction when Associate Judge Ericka Sanders announced her verdict Tuesday morning. The trial began Monday morning.
A member of Arter’s family clapped a single time when the verdict was announced.
Outside the courtroom, the 17-year-old hugged family before leaving with his parents. The boy will remain under house arrest, as he has for almost four months, until his sentencing in early October.
In Illinois, a juvenile who commits a crime can be held in a juvenile detention center only until his 21st birthday. The Clinton County teen’s case was handled by a special prosecutor, David Rands, who chose not to seek to have the case moved to adult court.
The juvenile told police he feared for his life when he punched Arter. But at least one witness testified that Arter didn’t want anything to do with a fight, and didn’t even raise his hands.
The juvenile testified Tuesday that he had punched Arter in self-defense, saying word got around before the party that Arter “wanted revenge” for a previous fight between the two.
The boy said he took an open knife from Arter’s pocket during an initial argument at the party and threw it into the woods. He said he confronted Arter about two hours later, asking him if he had another knife. When Arter didn’t answer and removed his hands from his pocket, the 17-year-old said he punched him, knocking him unconscious.
In closing arguments, the juvenile’s defense attorney, C.J. Baricevic, said the boy had every right to feel threatened.
“There’s only one reason someone carries an open knife, and that’s to use it,” Baricevic said. “You certainly don’t have to be stabbed before you defend yourself.”
But the judge said the juvenile’s choice to confront Arter later on, when witnesses said Arter told the boy he didn’t want to fight, contributed to her finding him guilty.
“Two hours passed in which evidence revealed (the juvenile) approached Mr. Arter,” Sanders said. “The harm at that time ceased to be imminent. I cannot find (the juvenile) was not the aggressor, given the amount of time that elapsed and the consistent evidence that Mr. Arter didn’t want to fight.”
Arter’s mother, Suzanne Arter, said she and her husband were “sad” about the other boy’s guilty verdict, but added “he has to be responsible for his actions.”
The 17-year-old’s family declined to comment.
Rands, in his closing argument, said the boy’s actions were reckless and intentional.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of dispute in the facts of this case,” Rands said, pointing to the consistent testimony of more than a dozen witnesses who said they were at the party and saw some or all of the confrontations.
Both boys had been drinking on the night of the party. The 17-year-old testified he drank about two beers before throwing the punch. Arter had a 0.115 percent blood-alcohol content, which is above the 0.08 percent threshold for a DUI in Illinois, according to a toxicology report.
Rands said there “is no good result” to the outcome of what he called “a tragedy” for all involved, including the families of both boys.
Baricevic portrayed the boys as “just two kids who didn’t like each other for a couple of weeks,” a teenage rivalry that ended in Arter’s death, which Baricevic called, “an unfathomable tragedy.”