The baseball-bat beating that left an Eastern Washington University track team member with brain damage happened because of a “horrible college fight gone wrong,” a defense attorney told Spokane jurors Tuesday.
John T. Mellgren, 24, is on trial for the Oct. 7 attempted murder of 20-year-old Robert “Drew” Schreiber.
What happened that night left Schreiber near death after three men beat him repeatedly in the head with a bat outside of a Cheney apartment complex.
But the defense argued there’s much more to the story: that it was a “horrible college fight gone wrong.” And while Mellgren may have been among the men involved in beating Schreiber with the aluminum bat, it wasn’t necessarily him swinging the bat.
On Oct. 7, Schreiber, an EWU junior and a member of the track team, and his roommate, Dallas Snider, had a few friends over for drinks, games and movies at their Grove apartment in Cheney.
At some point after midnight, Schreiber became upset that his friend took a photo of him and locked himself in his room.
Snider testified that, after a few minutes, they could hear glass breaking. They assumed it was Schreiber’s glass terrariums for his pet snakes and tried to enter the room. Instead, it turned out to be the second-floor window of his room.
Schreiber apparently began screaming from inside the room. At the same time, a car carrying Mellgren and others, including Damian Dunigan, were in the parking lot looking for a house party in the same apartment complex. Dunigan also is accused in the beating.
“They thought the man was screaming at them,” defense attorney Kevin Griffin told jurors. “The young, dumb men in the front seat started screaming back.”
Schreiber then jumped from the second-floor apartment window and chased the car. When he caught up to the car, he broke the back window with his knee, which also struck Mellgren’s girlfriend in the back of the head.
“They responded like 20-year-old men and wanted to fight,” Griffin said. He claimed Schreiber was taking anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medication, which could explain why he wasn’t acting like himself, became angry, jumped out the broken apartment window and attacked the car, he said.
Three men chased after Schreiber after he broke the car window. When they caught him in the apartment complex basketball court, they beat him and kicked him several times in the torso.
When Schreiber was able to get up, he tried to run away. But Mellgren, Dunigan and another man chased him again. They caught him at the front entrance to the apartments and one of the men swung a baseball bat and struck Schreiber in the head.
“I saw a bat being taken to a guy’s head,” said witness Brittany Hickey, who was returning to her friend’s apartment.
“It was over the head, like this,” she said, miming a swinging motion over her head. “Like an axe.”
Hickey contended Schreiber was hit “four to six” times in the head. She said she asked the men why they were beating Schreiber, to which one said, “He smashed in my back window.”
Prosecuting attorney Jennifer Zappone asked Hickey if she could identify who was holding the bat and if he was in the courtroom. Hickey said yes and pointed to Mellgren.
“He was intoxicated that night and made a stupid college mistake,” Zappone said of Schreiber. “After he jumped on that car, he ran for his life because the owner of that car was Mr. Mellgren.”
Zappone said Schreiber arrived at the hospital “with the brain function of those who are deceased,” with chunks of his skull fractured. She said doctors had to remove a piece of his skull to keep him alive.
“He has permanent brain damage,” she said. “He is no longer a student at Eastern Washington University. And he’s no longer running.”
Griffin asked the jury to treat the case as an assault, not attempted murder. He also asked jurors to consider that one of the other men hit Schreiber with the bat.
“This was a mess,” he said. “It was chaotic.”
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