by BRAD ROLLINS
A jury this afternoon exonerated a former Texas State University student accused of brutally assaulting another student during a drunken fracas outside a party in April 2011.
Jeffrey Werland, now 26, of Columbus, was acquitted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a first-degree felony that could have have landed him in prison for as many as 99 years. Stephen Jenkins, now 25, was badly injured with multiple facial fractures that required reconstructive surgery and medical bills that ran over $100,000.
After 5½ hours of deliberations on Dec. 6, the jury accepted Werland’s argument that he acted in self-defense when he threw punches that left Jenkins flailing on the parking lot pavement at the Hillside Ranch apartments at about 3 a.m. April 9, 2011.
Defense attorney Paul Looney told jurors that Jenkins — extremely drunk and on the prescription stimulant Adderall — ran down three flights of stairs and charged Werland and his friends but had second thoughts when he saw how large the men were. Werland punched Jenkins and, falling to the ground with him, punched him more, Looney said.
“Jenkins came running down the stairs. He’s 6 feet, 4 inches, tall and weighs over 200 pounds. … And he is an intimidating, massive young man,” Looney said during opening statements on Monday, according to a transcript provided by the defense attorney. “When Jenkins came down those stairs that night, there was a moment when Jenkins realized he was picking on someone his own size.”
All of the men — Jenkins and Werlands’ party of four — had closed out different bars on The Square and were looking for a party back at Hillside Ranch. As Jenkins struggled to get on his feet after Werland’s blows, one of the defendant’s friends, Joshua Hoelscher, kicked Jenkins hard in the face, Looney said. Hoelscher then grabbed a baseball bat from his pickup truck and started toward Jenkins before two friends restrained him, Looney said.
In February, prosecutors struck a plea bargain with Hoelscher under which he pled guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to 10 years probation with deferred adjudication. Hoelscher ended up serving three months in the Hays County jail this spring, jail records show. Hoelscher testified for the prosecution against Werland.
“They wanted my client badly. I never figured out why they had such a problem with him. It never made any sense,” Looney said.
Suspended San Marcos police officer David Amerson, who was arrested in July this year for allegedly obtaining prescription painkillers through fraud, was the first to arrive at the assault scene and submitted a written report that included witnesses statements. Amerson was subpoenaed by defense attorneys, but Looney said he did not need to call Amerson to the stand after all because the state’s case was so weak.
In her opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Katie McVaney told jurors that it is illogical to think that Jenkins would have tried to take on four men by himself. Even if he did, she said, Werland went far beyond what he needed to do to protect himself.
“Self-defense may be plausible for the first punch but there was more than one punch. When Stephen was on the ground and continued to be hit and then kicked, [Werland] is guilty of aggravated assault,” McVaney said, according to the transcript.
District Attorney Sherri Tibbe and First Assistant District Attorney Fred Weber did not return messages left for them on Friday evening.
Two of Werland’s hometown friends from Columbus, 22-year-old Aaron Cable and 23-year-old Corey Peikert, were charged with giving false reports to Amerson and other officers who arrived to investigate. Cable and Peikert are currently in a pre-trial diversion program, according to Hays County court records.
Meanwhile, a civil lawsuit filed by Jenkins against the four Columbus men and the companies that own and manage Hillside Ranch apartments appears stalled in state district court. In January, District Judge Bill Henry granted a motion from Jenkin’s attorney, Randall O. Sorrels, to withdraw from representing the plaintiff. There has been no movement on Jenkin’s lawsuit in the subsequent 10 months, according to court records.Email | Print