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Case against man accused in baseball bat beating of EWU track student goes to jury

UPDATED: Wed., April 19, 2017

John Mellgren, who is facing charges of attempted murder, enters court April 13, 2017, in Spokane. He is accused of beating Drew Schreiber, a student at EWU and a member of the track team. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
John Mellgren, who is facing charges of attempted murder, enters court April 13, 2017, in Spokane. He is accused of beating Drew Schreiber, a student at EWU and a member of the track team. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

John T. Mellgren did not testify in his trial for the baseball bat beating that nearly killed an Eastern Washington University student last year.

A jury will now decide the attempted murder case.

Mellgren, a graduate of EWU and a former runner on the track team, is accused of beating Robert “Drew” Schreiber, who was attending EWU at the time of the beating and who also ran on the track team.

Defense attorney Kevin Griffin did not call any witnesses to the stand and instead relied on the cross-examination of the state’s witnesses in an effort to convince jurors Mellgren is not guilty of the charges of first-degree attempted murder and first-degree assault.

He rested his case immediately after prosecutors finished calling witnesses.

Griffin told jurors to carefully ponder the evidence that Mellgren was only identified by one of the 10 witnesses who saw the beating that night. He also told them to consider the intent behind the beating, which was not to cause great bodily harm or to kill anyone.

“While this entire incident is disgusting and horrible, the people involved, specifically Mr. Mellgren, did not try and kill anyone,” he said. “The state has presented a lot of evidence, and it’s all horrible and impactful. None of that is in dispute. And it’s not what this case is about. It’s about who did what. And what they were intending.”

According to evidence presented in court, Mellgren is one of three people Cheney police investigated for beating Schreiber the night of Oct. 8. Another suspect, Damian Dunigan, will be tried in June. A third suspect has not been arrested.

“After hearing the evidence, you should have two major questions,” Griffin said. “The first is, ‘Who had the bat?’ … the second is, ‘Did the person intend to kill him?’ ”

Prosecutors said Mellgren was the only one with a motive. Testimony showed Schreiber broke the rear window of Mellgren’s car. The aluminum bat was kept in the trunk of the car and a witness identified Mellgren as the man who she saw striking Schreiber in the head repeatedly with the bat.

Doctors testified Schreiber would have died without emergency surgery.

And jurors also heard from Schreiber about the lasting impacts and severity of his injuries.

Griffin contended that the state relied heavily on a recording of a phone call Mellgren made to his girlfriend while in jail, in which he appears to make jokes about the beating. Griffin said the state had recorded dozens of phone calls made by Mellgren but only chose to play a small clip of one of the calls.

The state played the tape in court during testimony and again during its final argument.

“See? I knew he wasn’t going to die,” Mellgren is recorded saying to his girlfriend sometime after learning Schreiber was alive. “Has he said anything or was he like, ‘I’ve got a headache’? ”

Later in the video, he jokingly asks if he made Schreiber “retarded.”

“They try to make it seem like I put him in a coma,” Mellgren said in the recording. “It’s whatever. I probably shouldn’t talk too much about it.”

But Griffin contends the jovial nature of the conversation and Mellgren making light of Schreiber’s injuries is proof he wasn’t aware of how bad they were, and that it shows he never intended to kill him.

“It’s disgusting to hear him make fun of him,” Griffin said. “But you might find, while it’s a horrible conversation, you might find there was no intent to kill him. You may find that it’s evidence that they didn’t appreciate or understand how serious this was.”

Deputy prosecuting attorney Dale Nagy spoke last: “What happens when you hammer a nail onto a piece of wood?” he asked the jury. “You hit it and hit it over and over. You keep hitting it over and over. What’s your intention? To drive that nail into the wood. What was Mr. Mellgren’s intention that morning? It was to kill Mr. Schreiber.”

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