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Three in racially tinged Detroit mob beating plead guilty to assault

In case with racial overtones, three plead guilty in beating of Detroit motorist

Steven Utash, a white suburbanite, accidentally hit a 10-year-old boy who had darted in front of his pickup truck, then the driver did what he was supposed to do: He left the vehicle and went to help the child. A mob of angry black residents of Detroit pounced and severely beat the 54-year-old tree trimmer.

On Thursday, three men pleaded guilty to assault in a week of deals involving in the case that again raised questions about race and violence.

Latrez Cummings, 19, James Davis, 24, and Wonzey Saffold, 30, all agreed to plead guilty to assault with attempt to do great bodily harm and prosecutors dropped attempted murder charges as part of an agreement in Wayne County court. The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison, but they are expected to get six years, according to a lawyer for one of the defendants.

Assistant prosecutor Lisa Lindsey didn't indicate in court why her office decided to close the cases with the lesser charge of assault. But Saffold's attorney, Ray Paige, said that charge seemed to fit the facts.

“There was never an intent to murder.… Bad judgment on all the parts of the defendants was exercised,” he told reporters outside court.

“A kid was hit by a car and the community was outraged — wrongfully — by this ordeal,” Paige said, according to local media reports.

Utash, of Macomb County, was attacked on the city’s east side on April 2 when he stopped to help the child he struck. The boy had darted in front of the truck, officials said.

After the beating, Utash spent several days in a coma and six weeks in hospitals before being released in May.

“I punched him twice and kicked him once,” defendant Saffold said in court on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

On Wednesday, the teenager who threw the first punches entered a plea in juvenile court and agreed to testify against the others. He will go to a residential correctional program.

On Monday, an older teen, charged as an adult, pleaded guilty to assault. Bruce Wimbush, now 18 but 17 at the time of the attack, also agreed to testify in exchange for a reduction from the original charge of assault with intent to murder.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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