ST. CHARLES TOWNSHIP — Ray Wilson said he struck David Suthard in the face with a samurai sword to defend himself. Suthard had a grip like a pit bull and Wilson figured only one of them was going to survive.
"I knew if I didn't get him loose, I would probably die," Wilson testified. "I tried to hit with everything but the kitchen sink."
On Tuesday, a jury agreed with Wilson's version of events, finding him not guilty of armed violence and aggravated battery.
Wilson, 47, of the 800 block of Merrill New Road, Sugar Grove, had been accused of slashing 33-year-old Suthard's face with a samurai sword and then holding him in his house overnight on Nov. 8, 2004.
Suthard earlier testified he was called up to Wilson's room and accused of stealing drugs and money. When Suthard started to look for the missing items, he said Wilson hit him in the face with the sword and Suthard defended himself by biting Wilson's neck.
But Wilson reversed the chronology, if not all the details, of that story during his animated testimony Tuesday.
Although Judge Philip DiMarzio asked Wilson several times not to add editorial comments and answer only questions that were asked, Wilson remained adamant he invited Suthard, a homeless, crack-addicted stranger, into his house to rescue him.
"Charity was one of the pillars of my faith, and if anybody needed help, it was this kid," Wilson said. "And I actually thought it would. I didn't know it would get so ugly."
According to Wilson's testimony, he woke up to find Suthard in his room, stealing money off the dresser. Wilson said he confronted Suthard and reached into his left pants pocket to retrieve $415.
That's when Suthard clamped onto his neck, going for the jugular vein, according to Wilson's attorney, Kathleen Colton.
Suthard didn't let go, so Wilson said he started punching him — first with his fists then with the handle of the two-foot samurai sword.
Suthard eventually released his bite, but Wilson said he was forced to hit Suthard with the sword when he reached for a steak knife that was sitting on Wilson's dresser.
"I was in fear for my life because he was going for a knife," Wilson testified. "He had just bit my throat."
Prosecutor Amy Engerman argued that Wilson's version of events was implausible partly because it wasn't physically possible for Suthard, who stands 5-foot-6, to clamp onto the 6-foot-3 Wilson's neck during this fight.
They also questioned why Wilson never went to police after the incident or sought treatment for his wounds, which he testified left a three-inch numb spot on his neck months later.
But the jury took just two hours to return their not guilty verdict. Wilson was not released after the verdict because he still faces battery charges for an alleged fight that took place while he was being held in jail.
But Colton said her client, who previously pleaded guilty to bank robbery in California, was pleased the jury believed his version of events this time.
"He is very grateful and very happy to be acquitted," Colton said. "I think Mr. Wilson did a wonderful job of telling his story. He was indignant at being charged with this, and I think the jury saw that."