A 23-year-old man accused of seriously injuring a man by punching him at an Orioles game nearly two years ago accepted a plea offer Friday that will send him to jail for 10 days and require him to pay $15,000 restitution to the victim.
Gregory Fleischman, of Edgewater, entered an Alford plea to first-degree assault for the attack on Matthew Fortese, 27, of Hagerstown. An Alford plea means a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges there is enough evidence to convict if the case went to trial.
Fortese was watching the May 29, 2013 game with a date when he was taunted by Fleischman and another man, Michael Bell. When the men tossed a beer at Fortese around the seventh inning, Fortese climbed a railing in front of their seats to confront them. Fleischman punched Fortese, sending him onto the concrete below where he hit his head, Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Stock said.
Fortese was in a coma for months and suffered brain damage.
"It is quite a miracle that Matt survived this. We were told he, at best, would be at a nursing home with a feeding tube in his stomach," Fortese's mother, Margaret Hanna, told Circuit Court Judge Timothy J. Doory. "I thank God every day that didn't happen, but I don't have my son 'back.'"
Prosecutors had sought a 15-year sentence, with all but five years of that time suspended.
Doory offered Fleischman 10 years, with all but 10 days suspended. He won't have to turn himself in until the end of May, allowing him to finish the semester at Salisbury University, where he is a senior studying information systems and economics.
Fleischman will be on probation for five years. If he violates probation he can be sent back to prison for any of the suspended time. He also was ordered to pay $250 a month to Fortese for the next five years.
Hanna said she is thankful her son is alive, but she likened his mental state to that of a 12- or 13-year-old. He was to start a new job days after the assault, but now stays home with an uncertain future, she said.
"Nothing can get him back except prayer, and hopefully almighty God will help him," said his father, James Fortese.
Hanna described the two years of postponements in the case as "unbearable," and said the 10 days that Fleischman will serve paled in comparison.
Doory interjected that the sentence was not a reflection of the family's hardship.
"I'm not punishing him and saying 10 days is in any way equalizing the pain and suffering that you and your son have gone through. That's not the balance," Doory said. "The balance is, what is the punishment for throwing a punch in that circumstance?"
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"Our client wanted to resolve this and be able to move forward," said Kurt Nachtman, Fleischman's attorney. "This was a good resolution for him and allows him to give back to the victim's family and repair some of what has been done."
Bell pleaded guilty last September to second-degree assault and was sentenced to five years in prison, with all but three days suspended. He is also on probation for the next five years.
Court records show a lawsuit filed by Fortese against Fleischman and Bell was dismissed in December. An attorney who represented Fortese in that case declined to comment.
When Fleischman's hearing concluded, Doory said that he hoped he had taken the words from Fortese's family to heart.
"On May 25, you will be taken to Central Booking," Doory said. "You will hear the clang of an iron gate close behind you. For 10 days, you will belong to those people."