DETROIT -- A defiant witness left a courtroom in handcuffs Monday, after a tense hearing that found sufficient evidence to send three men to trial in the mob beating of 54-year-old Steve Utash near an east-side gas station.
A fourth man waived his right to the hearing and will also stand trial.
Wearing yellow jumpsuits, the three defendants sat handcuffed to one another: Latrez Cummings, 19; James Davis, 24, and Wonzey Saffold, 30, who showed his middle finger to a group of news cameras. Each of the three confessed to kicking Utash of Clinton Township at least once, according to their statements to police read in court Monday.
Utash's loved ones fought back tears as witnesses spoke for the first time in public of what happened April 2, when Utash was stomped nearly to death after stopping to help a 10-year-old boy he hit when the child darted in front of his truck.
One of the witnesses, Anton Sykes, 30, tried to avoid testifying by asking to plead the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination and denied a statement prosecutors said he previously gave to police.
Visibly frustrated, 36th District Court Judge Thomas Jackson ordered Sykes jailed on $500,000 bond pending trial, noting that he was likely to disappear if released from the courtroom at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice.
As security escorted Sykes from the room, Jackson responded to murmurs from the gallery, and a handful of people walked out.
"Respect where you are; if you can't do that, get out of here right now," Jackson said, threatening contempt of court to a man in a red hoodie, who left and didn't turn back. "Let me hear you, come on," the judge said.
Two other witnesses called by the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office said they saw the beating unfold and could identify a defendant.
Amid the multiple disruptions, Utash's family sat quietly — packed at the end of a bench one row in front of the defendants' supporters, a few of whom could be heard laughing quietly during the proceedings. Utash's brother-in-law, Max Mohr, 34, said afterward that he didn't appreciate the "mockery" of the process from others in the courtroom.
Earlier Monday, Bruce Wimbush Jr., 17, a fourth codefendant, waived his right to the hearing, and his case was bound over as well. The four defendants are charged with assault with intent to murder and assault with intent to do great bodily harm.
Separately, a 16-year-old boy is charged in Juvenile Court with assault and ethnic intimidation in the case. He is black; Utash is white.
Utash has remained in intensive care at St. John Hospital since April 2, when a crowd closed in around him after he stopped to check on the boy he'd hit with his truck.
Witness Ashley Daniels said as many as 15 to 20 people were "just stomping on him" as she fled the scene. She had arrived shortly after the child, David Harris, was hit by the truck. Driving by, she pulled over to check on the boy in the street then heard "a lot of yelling and threats being made."
A crowd grew as someone punched Utash, who fell but then stood back up, stumbling. When Utash was hit, his hat fell off in front of Daniels. A man she was speaking with said, "I dare you to pick up your hat," she said, but she grabbed it and handed it to Utash, urging him to wait in his truck.
"He tells me, he's like, 'I'm trying to wait for the police,' " she said, before he was hit a couple more times and fell to the ground.
Then, she said, Saffold appeared waving a gun in the air. Seeing this, Daniels retreated to her car, where her 6-year-old son was waiting. She looked back and saw Saffold kicking Utash, she said.
Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Lisa Lindsey had an additional count of felony firearm added to the charges against Saffold after the testimony.
The second witness Monday was Deborah Hughes, the former nurse credited with saving Utash's life. She said she, too, stopped to check on the boy. She looked up and Utash was sputtering, "Is he dead? Did I hit him? Did I hurt him?"
Hughes tended to the boy, Utash moved to the back of the crowd, and she didn't see Utash again until he was being kicked on the ground, about 10 to 15 minutes later, she said.
"The crowd was just gathering around him," she said.
She identified Cummings as saying, "I'm gonna kill him, I'm gonna kill him," Daniels said.
She said Cummings kicked Utash perhaps 10 times. When she got to Utash, he was laying unconscious, and the crowd had dispersed.
Mohr said Monday that after some previously positive signs, Utash isn't doing very well.
"Now he's waking up, he thinks he's a train conductor," he said. "He says he hit the little boy with an airplane, and another airplane hit him."
Utash can say his family members' names, but only when he's repeating them.
"He ain't the Steve that I know," Mohr said. "Not even close."
Defense lawyers Jason Malkowicz and Ray Paige, representing Davis and Saffold, said their clients are being "over-charged," and they don't believe there's enough evidence to show intent to murder.
"These defendants, no matter what they did, no matter how heinous it is, it didn't arise to a level where they were trying to kill that gentleman," Malkowicz said.
He also said that when police were taking the statement from Davis, he was waiting for 45 minutes in a lobby waiting to see him.
The next court date for the four men is scheduled for April 28 in Wayne County Circuit Court.