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Texan convicted in Fayette bar fight

| Saturday, March 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Fayette County jury Friday convicted a Texas man of aggravated assault for a stabbing during a bar fight last March 10.

Marcus Claude Moreau, 42, a pipeline welder from Channelview who was staying in a Uniontown hotel while working in the gas industry, was found not guilty of two additional charges of aggravated assault and one count of simple assault.

Moreau testified before Common Pleas Court Judge Nancy Vernon that he and his friend and co-worker, Eli Lopez, feared for their lives in the incident in Riser's Pub in Connellsville Township.

Moreau said a group of men began playing darts nearby and several of the darts landed under their table.

Lopez, of Ronco, testified that a man retrieving the darts from under their table was disrespectful to his wife, who was wearing a dress that evening.

He said he offered to retrieve the darts.

Lopez said the man cursed at him and got “in my face.”

Feeling threatened, he said he hit the man, Michael Andrew Schmidt.

“Right after that I just seen a bunch of people rushing at me. ... They said, ‘Get that Mexican and get that (racial expletive). Don't let them get out,'” Lopez said.

Moreau, who is black, said he had gone to the bar to get some drinks when, he said, he “heard a ruckus going on.”

“I went over and I saw my friend Eli was in a scuffle. ... I tried to stop the altercation,” Moreau said, demonstrating how he said he spread his arms and said “whoa.”

“I was scared for my life. I had a bunch of people beating on me. Nobody was going to help me, so I'm going to get out,” Moreau said.

Asked by his attorney, Brent Peck of Uniontown, Moreau confirmed he carried a folding pen knife in his pocket, which he used for work.

He testified that he did not know when the knife came out of his pocket.

Bar patron Frank Hart of Connellsville admitted in court he confronted Lopez after he punched Schmidt.

Hart was hospitalized overnight for stab wounds, testimony showed.

Bartender Tanya Calhoun of Connellsville, who testified on Thursday that she tried to grab Moreau's arm during the melee, was slashed in the hand and required surgery.

Moreau and Lopez both claimed bar patrons and a security guard followed them to the parking lot and tried to yank Moreau out of his truck.

“What happened to your knife?” Peck asked.

“I don't know. I might have dropped it in the bar somewhere,” Moreau said.

“Did you walk over and stab anybody? Did you intentionally hurt anybody?” Peck asked.

“No,” Moreau said.

Assistant District Attorney Doug Sepic reviewed a video of the night's events, pointing out where he said it appeared a knife was in Moreau's hand.

“No one in the crowd had a knife, gun, broken bottle?” Sepic asked.

“Not to my knowledge,” Moreau said.

“Was Marcus justified in defending himself under the circumstances that presented themselves that night?” Peck said in his closing.

“We could not determine (from the video) when Marcus pulled his knife out. We don't know. He does not know. ... Whatever our feelings about Marcellus shale, we say, ‘You can come work in our community, stimulate our economy, but when you go out in public you are going to be assaulted and abused.' Is that the message we want to send about our community?” Peck said.

Sepic said in closing that, rather than alert a security guard, Lopez “sucker punched” Schmidt.

“He knew the guy had friends with him. What is reasonable to expect under those circumstances?” he said.

“You saw a security guard following them out,” not an “angry white mob,” Sepic said, referring to the video.

The defense, he said, played the “race card.”

“They were seated, they were served, the music did not suddenly screech to a halt, the place did not fall silent,” Sepic said.

Moreau entered a fist fight with a weapon, Sepic said.

Moreau “us(ed) the knife not as a shield, an instrument of defense, but as a sword, an instrument of attack,” Sepic said.

Moreau remains free on $100,000 bail.

He will be sentenced April 8 before Vernon.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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