Teen Scuffle leads to a Conviction for Punching out Boy’s Teeth

“Kids will be kids.” A common phrase used to brush off when young teenagers get into fights, but that’s not how Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh and the Fairfax jury felt about two boys punching out the teeth of 14-year-old Cody Gibbons on Christmas Eve. James Clarke, 16, was convicted of misdemeanor assault and battery on Thursday, August 28, reported the Washington Post.

Originally, Clarke was charged with aggravated malicious wounding and other felony counts for punching out Gibbons’ teeth, but Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Stanley P. Klein threw out the charges. Virginia law doesn’t consider bare fists deadly weapons, and the judge ruled that the teenage attackers were not trying to permanently maim the victim, much to the delight of Clarke’s criminal defense attorney.

Anthony Nelli, 16, has also been charged with aggravated malicious wounding; he is still awaiting trial. According to witnesses, Nelli is the one whose punch knocked out Gibbons’ front teeth.

What Exactly Provoked the Christmas Eve Attack?

Although it’s not clear what happened that night, the fight was widely publicized because it seemed unprovoked. Both sides have different stories, but they agree on some of the facts.

Gibbons and friends, Matt Rude and Mike Shaw, were walking with their skateboards on Westmoreland Street in McLean, VA when two boys got out of a SUV, approached them and started kicking at their feet. Gibbons and Rude did not know the boys that came up to them, reported the Washington Post.

According to Jordan T. Ghannam, who was in the SUV with Clarke and Nelli, the younger boys made obscene gestures at his group; however, both Gibbons and Rude deny making any gestures or comments to the group in the car. Robby Gavora, the driver of the SUV, did not see any gestures but heard Nelli say something about it and pulled over at his request. When the older boys approached, Rude said that he walked away.

During the trial, Gibbons testified that after he told Nelli and Clark to get away from him, they hit him in the back of the head, mouth, left cheek and forehead. He didn’t recognize the attackers and couldn’t say who threw what punch. Two of Gibbons’ teeth fell out and a third was knocked loose, he told the court.

During the trial, Rude identified Nelli as the one who punched Gibbons in the mouth and that Clarke punched his friend in the head. The Washington Post reported that Ghannam confirmed Rude’s testimony. Ghannam also testified that the group of boys in the SUV had been drinking beer earlier; he videotaped the attack with his phone but then erased it. According to court documents, though, Ghannam told Police that he did not catch the fight on video.

However, Gavora said that Gibbons started the fight by swinging his skateboard at Clarke and Nelli and that their punches were just in self-defense. According to the Washington Post, Clarke did not testify.

Gibbons had just had his braces removed after seven years of orthodontia work. At the trial, the family dentist said he will need permanent implants and years of surgery to repair the damage from the fight.

In an hour and a half, the jury found Clarke guilty. Judge Klein will decide whether to sentence him as a juvenile, with a penalty of up to 30 days in jail, or adult, with a maximum penalty of a year in jail.

Are the Terms Too Tough?

Although the original charge on Clarke was reduced by the judge, if he had been convicted with aggravated malicious wounding, he would have faced 20 years to life in prison. Nelli is currently still facing the same charge in his upcoming trial, according to the Washington Post.

Malicious wounding is defined by Virginia law as “causing injury with the intent to maim, disfigure, disable or kill.” The crime is aggravated if the victim suffers “permanent and significant physical impairment.” When Klein threw out the charge, he said that the state’s law does not consider fists as “deadly weapons” unless there are repeated blows or other extenuating circumstances. He reduced the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor because he ruled that the boys intended to assault but not to “inflict permanent injury.”

Bruce Blanchard, Clarke’s attorneys, said he was surprised that prosecutors filed such a serious charge against Clarke as an adult. He told the Washington Post that Clarke and his family were upset by the case and that Clarke had been expelled from McLean High School.

A big question revolving around the case is if whether the prosecution is reacting too harshly. The assault and Gibbons’ injuries should be taken seriously, but it is not quite clear who antagonized who at the beginning of the scuffle.

Virginia state law says that children under the age of 17 are considered juveniles; however, there are circumstances that may lead to a child being tried as an adult. The prosecution did not tell the Washington Post why it chose to try Clarke as an adult, but the defense said they could not see reasoning for it.