MAYS LANDING, N.J. (AP) — A jury decided on Wednesday that a New Jersey man deserves to be punished for fatally stabbing one of Britain’s most eligible bachelors but determined it wasn’t an act of murder.
Robert Davies, 49, of North Wildwood, was convicted of reckless manslaughter and weapons offenses stemming from the August 2007 slaying of Lavern Paul Ritch of Penarth, Wales.
Davies, who began the trial acting as his own attorney but later abandoned that effort in favor of a public defender, told jurors in his opening statement that he stabbed Ritch. He claimed he acted in self-defense, believing that Ritch was part of a group out to hurt or kill him.
In reality, Ritch was a Good Samaritan out to help Davies, who had just been assaulted moments earlier by someone else.
The jury found Davies guilty of reckless manslaughter, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. (The third charge involves in May 2000 conviction on child endangerment charges that led to Davies having to register with police as a sex offender.) He was acquitted of murder and aggravated manslaughter.
He faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced later this year.
Ritch, 37, appeared as a contestant in the British adaptation of “American Gladiators” in 1998, making it to a quarterfinal round.
He was a swimming and fitness instructor in Cardiff, Wales; was listed in a 2002 poll of Britain’s 50 most eligible bachelors by Company magazine; and was named the 12th most eligible man in Wales that same year in a local newspaper.
The BBC described him in 2007 as “a well-known clubber on the London and Cardiff scenes.”
Prosecutors said the Aug. 12, 2007, melee was touched off by a racist insult Davies hurled toward a Mexican man in the men’s room of a bar in Margate, a Jersey shore community a few miles south of Atlantic City.
In his opening statement, Davies told the jury that the prosecutor in the case “has presented that Lavern Paul Ritch was an innocent victim, and that I killed him. That I did; it’s a fact. I wish I could change that. But there’s a difference between being an innocent bystander and someone who interjects himself into a gang-style assault.”
The prosecution said a bar patron, Mario Chavez, was angered when Davies confronted him in the bar’s men’s room, hurling an anti-Mexican insult at him. Shortly afterward, the prosecutor said, Chavez found Davies outside the bar, ran up to him and punched him in the face, then fled, causing Davies to run after him.
The chase wound its way through the streets of Margate, past a different nightspot where Ritch and a few friends were waiting for a taxi back to their hotel room in an Atlantic City casino. Prosecutors and witnesses said Ritch joined the chase, intending to help Davies.
It is here that the two sides’ stories diverged. Witnesses, including several Mexican nationals who had been with Chavez inside the bar, told police they saw Ritch run up to Davies and quickly draw back, with both hands raised high in the air, saying, “Look, I’m just trying to help you!” only to be stabbed in the chest.
Davies told the jury the 37-year-old Ritch ran up to him without a sound as a group of at least a half-dozen people were chasing after him. Davies said he lashed out at Ritch, stabbing him in the heart before running away.
He said he acted lawfully to defend himself, fearing his life was in danger.
“You are allowed to defend yourself, and you are allowed to judge your circumstance,” Davies told the jury. “What are you supposed to do, wait for your enemy to land a kill shot upon you before you defend yourself?”
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