US & Canada

Detroit 'mob beating' goes to attempted murder trial

Mandi Marie (centre) sits in the courtroom with family members during the preliminary examination of four defendants in the beating of her father Steve Utash after he accidentally struck a child with his truck in Detroit, Michigan 21 April 2014 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Steve Utash's family sat in the front row of the courtroom during the hearing on Monday

A Detroit judge has said four men accused in a mob beating of a driver who hit a young child will stand trial for attempted murder.

Police say Latrez Cummings, 19, Wonzey Saffold, 30, James Davis, 24, and Bruce Wimbush Jr, 17, have all acknowledged a role in the beating of Steve Utash.

The 54-year-old was unconscious for several days after the attack. The young boy he hit suffered a leg injury.

Defence lawyers for the accused say the attempted murder charge is too severe.

But Judge Thomas Jackson disagreed, while noting the threshold for moving the case along is lower than proving the case at trial.

"One or two may not be enough to kill anyone," he said of the alleged blows from the four men, "but a combination may be enough to cause one's death."

'I lost it'

In court on Monday, witnesses to the attack described a chaotic scene after Mr Utash hit the boy and left his lorry to check on the 10-year-old.

"They were hollerin' and screamin', 'Oh, my God, get him, get him'," witness Deborah Hughes said.

Ms Hughes, who is credited with intervening and ending the beating, said Mr Cummings kicked Mr Utash at least 10 times.

Another witness, Ashley Daniels, said the 54-year-old tree-trimmer had stumbled after some early blows and was dared to pick up his hat, which had fallen off.

"He fell. He got up again," she said. "It was like he was almost accepting it."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Prosecutors say the four accused men have acknowledged some role in the beating

One witness refused to testify during the hearing on Monday and was jailed, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Prosecutors also showed statements by the accused made to the police after their arrest. Three of the four men allegedly told investigators they recognised the hurt boy.

"I saw the little boy on the ground... and I lost it," Mr Saffold told investigators.

Mr Cummings also allegedly acknowledged a role, prosecutors said, telling police he "prayed for the man every day. I hope him and the boy are going to be OK."

The Utash family sat in the front row of the court while relatives of the accused sat directly behind them, according to the Associated Press news agency, which reported several spectators were ejected from the courtroom after several loud comments.

Mr Utash's son has told a local radio station he believed the attack was racially motivated. The 54-year-old is white and the alleged attackers are black.

Outside court, Mr Utash's brother-in-law Max Mohr said his family member is struggling and disoriented.

"He's not the Steve I know - not even close," Mr Mohr told the Associated Press news agency, adding Mr Utash had tried to walk with the help of nurses but only moved a few steps.

A 16-year-old has also been charged with assault and ethnic intimidation in connection with the case.

Detroit, a sprawling but increasingly empty city which recently filed for bankruptcy, has seen a 40% reduction of police staffing in the past 10 years. The city's police chief told residents earlier this year that arming themselves could help deter crime.

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