DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - A man who testified against the Trull brothers in a recent trial for the murder of two Howard County men was beaten in a holding cell after he was accidentally locked up with two of the brothers, authorities said.
The afternoon attack was at the Volusia County Justice Center, where the three men were sentenced Tuesday for their roles in a 1998 melee that left two Columbia, Md., men dead and another seriously injured.
Officials said Jonathan Trull and Joshua Trull were in the holding cell with two other men when Danny Beard was brought in after being sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison.
Beard's attorney Leanna Smith said Beard, 20, was bruised and swollen after his head and body were beaten. Beard was sent to Halifax Medical Center, where he was being evaluated in the emergency room yesterday afternoon. A hospital official said his injuries weren't life threatening.
"Unbelievable doesn't even describe what happened inside the Justice Center today," Smith said.
Beard was one of seven men who had joined in the April 1998 attack that left Matthew Wichita, 21, and Kevans Hall II, 23, dead and a third Columbia man, Seth Qubeck, now 23, with 17 stab wounds.
Yesterday's incident was not the first time the Trulls were accused of making threats against witnesses, said Assistant State Attorney Noah McKinnon.
Judges had ordered the Trulls separated from Beard and other witnesses.
Beard pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder and agreed to testify against the Trulls. During the trial, he testified to offering a knife to Jonathan Trull on the night of the attack, but was refused since Jonathan Trull said he already had one. Instead, Beard gave the knife to Christopher Trull, another brother.
On Tuesday, the judge held sentencing hearings for five of the men who participated in the attack. Circuit Judge Shawn L. Briese, acknowledging that Beard cooperated with the state and apologized to the victim's family, sentenced him to 6 1/2 years in prison.
Afterward, Beard was escorted to a secure area on the first floor of the Justice Center, officials said. Jonathan Trull and Joshua Trull were waiting in a holding cell with two other people, and Beard was apparently put in that cell, said sheriff's spokesman Gary Davidson.
Although criminal defendants are usually chained and handcuffed in the courtroom, the restraints are removed when they are in holding cells.
"It appears a mistake may have been made on our part," Davidson said. "We're conducting an internal investigation into what happened and how it happened." Deputies may charge the Trulls with battery and witness tampering and retaliation, Davidson said.
McKinnon said the incident proves his contention that the Trulls are dangerous. "The Trulls should be in prison for as long as possible, and we have argued that all along," McKinnon said. He argued the sentences are too short.
During Tuesday's court hearings, Christopher Trull, 27, received the shortest sentence of anyone involved - 56 months, or less than five years.
Jonathan Trull, 30, received a sentence of nearly 11 years in prison for attacking Qubeck. Trull was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the deaths of Hall and Wichita.
Daniel Osborne, 22, who pleaded no contest to attempted first-degree murder, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Wichita's mother, Christine Neperud, who attended the hearings, was upset at the judge's decisions. "It's a travesty of justice," she said yesterday. "I get the feeling my son's life had no value."