A Suffolk Superior Court jury acquitted a construction worker on charges he stabbed a Financial District bar bouncer, ruling Thursday that the defendant was acting in self-defense.
Newton resident Peter Damelio, 40, faced charges of assault and battery and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in connection with a fight outside Coogan’s bar on Nov. 16, 2013.
During the two-day trial, Damelio admitted to stabbing bouncer and Dedham resident Ryan DePalma after he was tackled to the ground in an altercation after an argument broke out about the wait to get into the bar.
Damelio said that with DePalma on top of him and another bouncer close by, he could not breathe and used a work knife to stab DePalma and break free.
After breaking free, Damelio jumped in a cab and fled the scene. A bouncer at a nearby bar in Faneuil Hall called in the cab number, and police were able to stop the cab in Charlestown, where they found the defendant. The work knife was found tucked under the seat of the car.
DePalma was treated at Massachusetts General Hospital after the incident, receiving four staples and stitches for a knife wound.
The case centered on the issue of self-defense. During his instructions to the jury, Judge Mitchell Kaplan reminded the panel that a self-defense claim cannot be used in a case where that individual initiated force first.
In her closing arguments, Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Caitlin Grasso argued that Damelio was the first to strike, punching bouncer Sheldon Cohen in the face when he was denied entrance to the bar. She described DePalma as the “go-to guy” at Coogan’s to calm people down, and said DePalma intervened in an attempt to diffuse the situation before he was stabbed.
“The defendant attacked Ryan DePalma and Sheldon Cohen and used an unreasonable amount of force all because he wanted to send a message when he didn’t get in that he wasn’t like these other kids,” she said. “He was a local, and he wasn’t happy.”
Grasso said at nearly 200 pounds himself, Damelio was “not a shrinking violet or a delicate flower” against the 300-pound bouncers, and his actions following the incident proved he was guilty.
“He doesn’t call 911 or ask the cab driver to call 911. And how do police find that knife? It’s all folded up on the floor,” she said. “The defendant started this fight. The defendant ended this fight, and the defendant is guilty.”
But defense attorney James Greenberg said a video of the incident shows Damelio’s head “snapping back” before the altercation escalated. He argued that Damelio was attacked by “bully big bouncers” and had to protect himself when he couldn’t breathe.
“What would you do if you were Mr. Damelio? These bouncers are big dudes, and frankly this night they were bullies,” he said. “You heard him testify – he was panicked. He didn’t know what to do. Listen to your honor’s description of self-defense. We all have that right – especially when it’s two-on-one.”
Following four hours of deliberation – with time for a lunch break in-between – the jury returned by 3:30 p.m. with a not guilty verdict, clearing Damelio of all charges.