SIDNEY – A Sidney man was found guilty of assaulting of former housemate in a rare jury trial in Sidney Municipal Court Thursday. The jury trial was the first in the court in six years.
Convicted was Bruce Upkins, 52, 122 W. North St. Apt F, for assault, a first-degree misdemeanor. When sentenced he faces a maximum of 180 days in the Shelby County Jail and a $1,000 fine. A sentencing date will be set Monday.
Judge Duane Goettemoeller decided not to declare a sentencing because the victim had left the courthouse for the day with no intention of returning. He cited the reason to hold off sentencing was based on regulations outlined in the new Marsy’s Law enacted to protect crime victims.
The law states victims of crime must be treated with respect and dignity by the criminal justice system. Courts must consider the safety of victims and families when setting bail and release conditions. Family members have legal standing in bail hearings, pleas, sentencing and parole hearings.
The victim, Larry Franklin, 63, 416 S. West Ave., testified and was on hand until about an hour before the jury announced their verdict.
The jury met for nearly two hours during the daylong trial, dispatching court bailiffs several times asking questions of the judge and attorneys. The verdict was read shortly before 8 p.m.
City Prosecutor Jeff Amick stood by the Sidney Police reports claiming Upkins assaulted Franklin at his home on Dec. 28, 2017, causing serious injury, and left the residence. He was arrested later that evening at his fiancé’s apartment.
Franklin said Upkins had stayed with him for short periods of time a few times. The day of the assault, the pair had gone to Franklin’s uncle’s house and conduct minor repairs. The flare up occurred shortly before 5:30 p.m.
Amick questioned Franklin, Upkins, and Sidney Police Officer Ethan Brown, who took the stand. Throughout the trial, Amick said Franklin was assaulted viciously claiming Upkins became enraged when Franklin asked him to move out of his home.
He claimed Upkins (6 foot, 3 inches, 225 pounds) grabbed Franklin from behind as he was preparing a meal on the stove. Upkins lifted the slightly built (six-foot, 155 pounds) Franklin and “body slammed” him onto a kitchen table that broke in half.
Amick said police reports and personal testimony revealed that Upkins then punched Franklin four times in the head and face. He then collected his personal items and left the home and the area with a former girlfriend.
Franklin’s son, Phillip Franklin, arrived just after his father was injured and asked a neighbor to call 911. Brown arrived within 2 to 3 minutes of being dispatched after Upkins had left. Later at Wilson Health, the elder Franklin needed 11 stitches to close a head wound and two stitches in his eye socket. A photo of him at the hospital was entered into evidence.
Brown was called to the stand presenting crime scene photos and showing a 31-minute video taken during Upkins’ arrest at Canal Place Apartments, 121 W. Poplar St. Apt. 212. The footage included Upkins being processed to be jailed. He spoke of hitting Franklin, but said it was self-defense as he was being attacked by Franklin who was wielding a sheathed 3-foot long Samurai sword.
Defense attorney Justin Griffis of Sidney called Upkins to the stand where he detailed Franklin telling him to leave, and of being attacked while he was collecting his things. Upkins said his left wrist and scalp was injured by a glancing blow of the sheathed sword. He said striking Franklin was needed to “save his life.”
Upkins presented pictures of the wounds he took with his cell phone. When Griffis attempted to present them as evidence, Amick objected. He claimed the incident occurred on Dec. 28, yet the self-produced photos were only presented two weeks before the trial. He said there is no time reference on when the photos were taken.
Upkins claimed Franklin and his son hid the sword keeping it from police observation. They were also responsible for breaking the table to create a crime scene.
During closing statements, Amick said even if Upkins’ story was to be believed, the low ceiling and an overhead fan with large blades would not allow Franklin to raise the sword the way Upkins discussed. He pointed out that if Upkins did block the sword, he disarmed Franklin eliminating the physical threat. However, Upkins administered the beating after that indicating his actions of assault would have occurred after he was no longer in danger.
Griffis told the jury the sword could have been easily returned to a closet where it was normally kept before police began their investigation. He said police did not search the bedroom where the closet is located thus missing a key piece of evidence.
Goettemoeller ordered a mental health evaluation and a presentence investigation for Upkins prior to his sentencing.
The writer is a contributor to the Sidney Daily News.