This William Wallace did not set out to win independence for Scotland. But the 80-year-old Korean War veteran did take a knife in the heart for another cause: keeping some “punk” car prowler from getting away with stolen loot.
“I got mortared and shot in Korea and then I came home and got knifed,” Wallace said Thursday in his northwest Spokane home, a day after the culprit was ordered to serve just over three years in prison for the attack.
The incident began on April 14, 2008, as Wallace and others were leaving a Spokane Chiefs hockey game at the Spokane Arena. Wallace said he heard a man yelling about someone breaking into his truck. Wallace, an ex-Marine and Purple Heart recipient from Korea, rushed over to help.
The first man, Tracy Cassell, warned Wallace that the thief had a knife. That didn’t deter the great-grandfather, who was 78 at the time.
“I was ready to duke it out with him,” Wallace said, “but he stuck me with that knife.”
Witnesses said Wallace got one good punch in, hitting William A. J. Britton – who was 28 at the time – in the face before Britton stuck Wallace in the chest. Britton also stabbed a second bystander, Joshua Payne, before fleeing on foot. Police apprehended him several days later.
Recounting the 2008 confrontation this week, Wallace said he couldn’t remember delivering a blow to Britton, who was an even half-century younger than Wallace.
“I was going to ask (Britton) the other day if I did hit him. I would have told him, ‘I should have hit you harder,’ ” Wallace said.
Britton was sentenced Wednesday by Superior Court Judge Ellen Kalama Clark to serve another year in prison. He’s already served about 28 months after a jury convicted him of two counts of first-degree assault and car prowling.
That conviction was overturned by state appellate judges because of flawed jury instructions, and a second jury last week convicted Britton of two counts of the lesser charge of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon enhancement.
“I’d like to apologize to Mr. Wallace for this incident,” Britton said Wednesday. “I’ve learned from my mistake. I do have a son. I want to be a father to him rather than being in prison all the time.”
Clark asked Wallace at the hearing if he had anything to say.
“We had a good hockey season,” Wallace said. “Nobody had their windows broken out and nobody got stabbed.
“I know the reason why,” Wallace said as he looked at Britton, who has been in jail since the stabbing.
Wallace, a retired construction engineer, said he has his doubts that Britton – who has two prior forgery convictions – will be as good as his word.
“That’s the first time I heard (Britton) apologize,” Wallace said. “But I still think he’s a career criminal. I bet he comes right back at it again.”
As for his stab wound, the knife penetrated the top of Wallace’s heart. He was rushed to Deaconess Medical Center, where he underwent emergency open-heart surgery.
“I went to a hockey game and came home four days later,” he said.
As he was recovering, then-Coach Hardy Sauter and his family visited Wallace in the hospital and brought him a Chiefs jersey that read: “You are No. 1.”
“Hell with that,” Wallace said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I wouldn’t wear that to a hockey game for nobody.”