Jurors find Chattanooga man not guilty in fatal 2016 bar brawl

Jurors find Chattanooga man not guilty in fatal 2016 bar brawl

March 15th, 2018 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

After a two-day trial, jurors found a Chattanooga man "not guilty" in a fatal 2016 bar brawl.

Chattanooga prosecutors said William "Matt" Harvey, 27, used unnecessary force when he stabbed Shawn Russell, 36, near the heart on April 5, 2016, during a fight at Rumors Bar in Hixson.

William Harvey

William Harvey

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

But Harvey said he stabbed Russell once with a 3-inch knife to stop him from beating a third man, Johnathan Harvey, to death.

On the witness stand, Harvey said nobody tried to stop Russell as he swung a pool cue into Johnathan Harvey's face, jumped on top of his body and punched him several times in the face around 1 a.m.

According to trial testimony, Johnathan Harvey nearly provoked Russell into a fight earlier that evening. When Johnathan Harvey then said something about Russell's girlfriend, Russell unscrewed a pool stick, walked across the bar with the two pieces behind his back, and began to attack Johnathan Harvey, according to testimony.

Matt Harvey, who is not related to Johnathan Harvey, said he went with Johnathan Harvey to the bar while their girlfriends were hanging out that night.That was the first time he'd hung out with Johnathan Harvey and he said he'd never met Russell before.

During the assault, Matt Harvey said he didn't know what to do. He drew his knife at one point, but didn't use it until Russell went in for a third round of beatings.

"I reached in, I didn't put my body weight behind it," Matt Harvey said. "And then I backed up and put the knife in my pocket. I didn't want a fight. I just wanted to stop him."

Because Russell still seemed ready to fight and did not appear to be mortally wounded, Matt Harvey said he and Johnathan Harvey left Rumors but never called the police. Russell, an Army veteran who was involved in a 2011 boating death, died shortly after.

"He's just stabbed someone, and his friend has been savagely beaten," prosecutor Kevin Brown said during closing arguments. "Call the police: 'My friend was just getting killed so I stabbed the guy. Please come.' He doesn't do that. He doesn't go to the police department. He gets rid of the weapon that he used."

But Harvey's attorney, Ben McGowan, said Matt Harvey stabbed Russell out of defense for a third party — in this case, Johnathan Harvey, who couldn't abandon the "encounter."

"[Johnathan Harvey] couldn't say into the fist of Shawn Russell, 'Hey, it's over, I'm abandoning this encounter," McGowan argued. "There's no possibility of that."

Matt Harvey had "reasonable belief" that Johnathan Harvey could suffer death or "serious bodily injury," McGowan said. And jurors had to view the facts from Matt Harvey's perspective that night, he said.

Prosecutors charged Matt Harvey with voluntary manslaughter, a Class C felony that carries three to 15 years in prison. Jurors reached their "not guilty" verdict after two hours of deliberation.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.


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