DETROIT (WWJ) – It was an emotional scene in the courtroom Monday as family members made impact statements before the sentencing of two men involved in the beating of Steven Utash — a case that made national headlines.
Utash, 54, was beaten by at least five people after he stopped to check on the condition of a child he had accidentally hit with his car on Detroit’s east side in April. Witnesses at the time said the child had dashed into the roadway.
The beating left Utash in the hospital for six weeks, suffering from severe head injuries.
His family rallied by his side, and at sentencing an emotional Mandi Utash read a letter from her father in the courtroom.
“I feel like I’m alright but I must prove at first for everyone and the doctors to believe me. It’s been real scary for me – all I can say is that the people who beat me – tried to kill me. I don’t understand what kind of defense they have, what kind of defense they can use to explain their animal-like behavior? But if you ask the doctors, they say I’m lucky to be alive,” the letter said.
Bruce Wimbush, 18, plead guilty to assault with intent to do great bodily harm in exchange for the prosecution dropping a potential life in prison charge. Wimbush was sentenced to three years probation. Wimbush will have to undergo drug screening and substance abuse therapy during his probation period. If he completes his probationary sentence, all charges will be dropped from his record.
The sentence was made in part because the Utash family realized that Wimbush had no previous criminal record and that he cooperated with police – identifying other people who were involved in the attack.
“He’s a much better kid, he’s not a bad kid at all, he has a church family, I’m a minister and so … we’re just going to move on from this time forth,” said Wimbush’s stepfather David Cleveland.
Utash’s brother, Ken Utash, made a very passionate plea to Judge James Callahan for the maximum sentence for Wonzey Saffold.
WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton reported Ken Utash looked directly at the defendant and yelled that he had no respect for life and had it not been for Debra Hughes (the woman credited with stopping the attack) the defendant would be facing murder charges.
Saffold was sentenced to six years and 4 months to 10 years.
Ray Paige, attorney for Saffold, spoke with Langton about the night of the incident:
“Some people in the community saw a young boy lying in the street and there was an over-reaction to it but I can’t make any admissions to you right now,” Paige said.
Safford’s attorney believes his sentence was pretty harsh considering his client’s remorse and court apology.
“He apologized, he said it in court,” said Paige. “In open court – he apologized and he wished he had not been a part of it – he’d never target Mr. Utash because he was white – it was just a situation that … boiled over into the community and he’s sorry that it happened.”
In mid-June three men: 19-year- old Latrez Cummings, 24-year-old James Davis, and 30-year-old Wonzey Saffold each pleaded to a charge of assault to do great bodily harm less than murder.
The three all admitted they participated in the attack on Utash, who got out of his truck to help the young boy.
Prosecutors dropped attempted murder charges against all three as part of a plea deal.
The teen who threw the first punches has pleaded guilty to assault.
[Catch up on case HERE].