Thursday, May 24, 2001

Punching verdict: Not guilty

Victim still might refile civil suit

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — When Judge Neal B. Bronson read the jury's “not guilty” verdict Wednesday, Dennis Rock's lower lip began trembling.

        Then Mr. Rock, who had been accused of assaulting a neighbor over a parking space, began sobbing loudly, raised his hands and exclaimed: “Praise God!”

        In contrast, relatives of Gary Kretzer, the man who suffered debilitating brain damage after he and Mr. Rock argued last June 3 in their Mason neighborhood, sat silently during the verdict, then briskly exited the Warren County Common Pleas courtroom.

[photo] An emotional Dennis Rock embraces his wife, Marybeth, after he was found not guilty of aggravated assault Wednesday.
(Michael Snyder photo)
        A jury of eight women and four men had deliberated for just over an hour, concluding Mr. Rock's three-day trial on aggravated assault charges.

        The case has been highly publicized because of the near-fatal injuries Mr. Kretzer suffered and because of the unusual nature of the dispute between the two men.

        The fact that Mr. Kretzer has no memory of the incident made the case difficult to prove, Assistant Prosecutor Jim Beaton said.

        Defense lawyers, however, said they had ample evidence to support their client's assertion of self-defense, which the law says can justify an assault.

        Mr. Rock was “a victim of "yard rage,'” said attorney Hal Arenstein.

        Mr. Rock, who played one summer of minor league baseball in the 1970s, was giving baseball pitching lessons and his clients were parking on or near Mr. Kretzer's yard. Parking was allowed only on Mr. Kretzer's side of Kenwood Drive.

        Two witnesses testified they heard Mr. Rock trying to calm down Mr. Kretzer. After the verdict, Mr. Rock and his wife declined comment. His lawyers said that was because a civil suit, which had been dismissed in December, will almost certainly be refiled.

Kimberly Kretzer
        In an impromptu news conference in the hallway, Mr. Kretzer's wife, Kimberly, told reporters, “I have kept my mouth shut for one year.” Mr. Rock, 46, has never apologized, she said.“He got off today, but he will answer someday.”

        Mrs. Kretzer said she was disappointed by the verdict and she thinks jurors didn't get to hear enough about how her family has suffered as a consequence of her husband's brain injury.

        Mr. Kretzer, 39, can no longer work, can't drive and experienced a marked personality change, she said.

        But Judge Bronson had told the jury that the law forbade them being swayed by sympathy.

        Just before their deliberations began, Judge Bronson instructed jurors that Mr. Rock's claim of self-defense required them to put themselves in his position and decide if Mr. Kretzer's conduct might have caused them to react the way Mr. Rock did.

        Mr. Rock testified Wednesday that he swung at Mr. Kretzer because he felt certain “a punch was coming.” He said Mr. Kretzer had threatened, “I'm gonna kick your ass,” had clenched his fist and had twisted sideways as if to throw a punch.

        Mrs. Kretzer said that would have been out of character for her husband and she doesn't believe it happened that way.

        But several witnesses gave testimony supporting Mr. Rock's account of the events.

        Another point of contention was whether Mr. Kretzer's injuries came from blows inflicted by Mr. Rock or from striking his head on the pavement.

        “This was a pounding,” Mr. Beaton, the assistant prosecutor had argued, calling the fight “one-sided.”

        However, an expert witness said that all of the serious injuries Mr. Kretzer suffered could have been caused by the fall.

        “And in a freakish, flukish moment, his life was changed irrevocably,” Mr. Arenstein said.


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