A late-night argument over politics and race at an Avila Beach bar in February ended with one man in custody and another in intensive care with a severe laceration to his throat.
On Dec. 7, after a weeklong trial, a jury convicted Michael Simmons, 44, of Atascadero, of two felony counts of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon, including a number of enhancements.
Prosecutors allege Simmons and patron David Stratton engaged in a heated argument over Barack Obama at Mr. Rick’s on Front Street in February. Both the government and defense agree that Stratton, who is larger than Simmons, at one point placed his hand on Simmons’ arm. Simmons responded by pulling a box-cutter out of his pocket and slashing Stratton’s throat.
Defense attorney Matthew Guerrero argued that Simmons, who was celebrating an anniversary with his wife, feared for his life because of Stratton’s size and acted in self-defense. He played for jurors surveillance footage which—though grainy—seemed to show Stratton cock his arm back as if he were going to hit Simmons.
Deputy District Attorney Eric Dobroth argued that Simmons’ account about the incident changed several times and that Stratton was “on death’s door.” He showed jurors a picture of Stratton lying in the hospital with his thyroid cartilage exposed.
Simmons is due back in court on Dec. 17, where the court will consider the applicability of a prior conviction—a sexual abuse charge involving a child younger than 14—as a possible first strike.