One juror said sloppy police work, a lack of evidence and conflicting witness statements this week convinced a jury to acquit a Strawberry man involved in a bar fight last year.
After several hours of deliberation Monday, the jury found Eugene “Gino” Wullkotte II, 37, not guilty on two counts of aggravated assault.
The juror, who asked to remain anonymous, said jurors didn’t feel the prosecution presented enough evidence to banish reasonable doubt that Wullkotte had committed a crime during a confrontation in a bar with a man who Wullkotte believed had harassed his wife.
“It is a decision I could sleep with,” said the juror. “There were just too many questions to find him guilty.”
The case swirled around events on the night of Jan. 16 that left Charles Ayon, 56, with a black eye and fractured cheek.
The prosecution said Wullkotte, a contractor and hunting guide, went to the Sportsman Chalet to teach Ayon a lesson for hitting on his wife. Gila County Chief Deputy Attorney Shawn Fuller said Wullkotte punched Ayon in the face so hard his face “caved in.”
Defense Attorney Art Lloyd said Ayon’s own inebriation, nearly three times the legal driving limit, probably caused him to fall. Lloyd maintained his client never punched anyone, although he had indeed confronted Ayon.
The jury heard from a handful of witnesses at the bar that night, each with their own conflicting account of what had happened.
“You think you know what is going on and then another witness comes on the stand and says something different,” the juror said. “There was a lot of conflicting witness statements.”
Ayon testified he didn’t remember much about the incident.
While the bar had a dozen cameras, jurors never got to see any of the footage because Gila County Sheriff’s Office deputies decided not to collect the tapes.
Deputy Colt Maxwell testified that investigators didn’t take the tapes into evidence because a support post in the bar had blocked a camera’s view of the fight.
The juror questioned why the footage from the 11 other cameras wasn’t examined. She said the cameras probably captured what time Wullkotte entered the bar, what was happening during the fight and possibly other clues.
In addition, it appeared deputies did not talk to everyone in the bar that night, the juror said.
Ayon had reportedly propositioned or harassed Wullkotte’s wife in November at the bar and again on Jan. 16.
The first time Wullkotte learned about the advances, he brushed it off since he didn’t know the man and figured it was an isolated incident, Lloyd said.
On Jan. 16, Wullkotte, family and friends returned to the Chalet after a successful bow hunt. During the evening, Wullkotte noticed a man glaring at him from across the bar. Unbeknownst to him, it was Ayon.
Later, when Wullkotte went to the bathroom, his wife went outside to smoke on a small-enclosed patio. Ayon followed her out and again put the moves on her, Lloyd said. When Wullkotte returned from the bathroom, his wife told him it was time to go. Later at home, Wullkotte learned the reason for his wife’s abrupt decision to leave was that the same man that had hit on her in November had done it again that night.
This time, Wullkotte decided to go back to the bar and tell the man to leave his wife alone, Lloyd said.
When he arrived at the bar, Wullkotte asked the bartender to point out Charlie. She pointed to a bar stool where Charlie sat.
Wullkotte testified he went up and asked the man if he was Charlie. Ayon said yes, leaned forward in his chair and started to stand up, his fist clenched, he said. Wullkotte said he pushed Ayon back because he thought he was going to be hit.
Ayon lost his balance and fell to the floor, he said.
As Ayon fell, another man jumped on Wullkotte’s back and he fell to the ground, he testified.
Wullkotte’s friends and sons, who had followed him to the bar, reportedly helped Wullkotte out of the bar, where they waited for officers to arrive. Wullkotte maintained he hadn’t punched anyone and even told deputies to take a picture of his hands.
With each witness offering a different account of the events, it was hard to know what had happened, the juror said.
A Pine-Strawberry paramedic testified that when they arrived, Ayon was sitting in a chair. Wondering what had happened, the firefighter asked a person nearby. The person told him Ayon had fallen from a standing position onto his face.
The juror said this testimony was critical.
“We all agreed (Wullkotte) didn’t punch him,” said the juror. “(Ayon) definitely got hurt, but was it Gino’s fault?”
While some of the jurors initially thought Wullkotte was guilty, after going through their notes and discussing the case, they all agreed there were too many unanswered questions and doubt to convict.
“There were so many errors made to where we had doubt,” said the juror.