First responders: Hutton was impaired but coherent after assault

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Photo courtesy New Hanover County.
Photo courtesy New Hanover County.

Wilmington police officer Lucas Borton was first on the scene of a reported domestic dispute at a home on Northwood Drive just before midnight on May 23, 2014.

Before he could attend to a young woman lying motionless in the driveway, Borton was approached by an shirtless man, aggressive and covered in blood, who asked the officer why he was there.

That man was Michael Hutton, now 20, who is fighting attempted first degree murder and kidnapping charges in New Hanover County Superior Court this week in an assault on then 17-year-old Hannah Connaway that left her with a permanent brain injury.

Hutton’s trial got underway Monday with his admission of responsibility for three charges: felony assault inflicting serious bodily injury to the brain, felony assault by strangulation and misdemeanor assault on a female. He has pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder and kidnapping, as well as felony assault inflicting serious bodily injury to the victim’s genital area.

While Hutton acknowledges he beat Connaway with his closed fist, causing swelling in her brain that required emergency surgery, the defense contends that he never intended or premeditated at any point during the assault to kill her.

During opening statements Wednesday, criminal defense attorney Miriam Thompson told the jury that around the time of the incident, he was taking three to five Xanax pills a day, drinking regularly and smoking pot.

Michael John Hutton
Michael John Hutton

That abuse, coupled with the use of prescribed seizure medication, caused Hutton to “black out” routinely, including on the night he assaulted Connaway, Thompson argued.

Borton, among other first responders, gave a very different account in court Thursday of Hutton’s words and demeanor the night of the incident.

Borton was just finishing an off-duty shift at Mayfaire when he switched on his radio and heard a call come out about an assault in progress just a few minutes from the shopping center.

“As I pulled up…I noticed a female on the ground not moving, not screaming. A male not wearing a shirt…approached me and asked me what was going on,” Borton testified.

He said Hutton “got defensive for a second” then began telling him that Connaway had struck first, so he “had to put her down.” Because of the nature of the 911 call–and Hutton’s behavior–Borton put him in handcuffs until other officers could respond to Connaway and her injuries.

Almost immediately, Borton said, Hutton started talking.

“He said that to me over and over. ‘I had to put her down, I had to put her down,'” Borton noted. “He said, ‘Why is it always the man who gets arrested even when a woman starts it?'”

Borton’s testimony was followed by video and audio captured from his vehicle’s dashboard camera and a microphone clipped to his shoulder that recorded part of his conversation with Hutton through the camera.

In that footage, Hutton is heard as saying “girls overreact a lot” as he asked Borton if he had ever been in a similar situation with a volatile and violent female.

“She came at me first and I restrained her…I don’t know what else you want me to do,” he said.

Hutton later tells Borton he knows what he did was wrong, adding “But I don’t want to go to jail.”

At no point during his detainment did Hutton ask about Connaway’s condition, Borton said. The police video captures Connaway being wheeled past Hutton and Borton on a gurney and into a nearby ambulance.

The officer testified that while Hutton seemed impaired, Connaway’s friend, Claudene Williams, did not. Williams, who was at the Huttons’ home during the assault, was the first witness to testify for the prosecution.

And although officers and EMS personnel who took the stand Thursday noticed the smell of alcohol on Hutton’s breath that night, they all said that he was coherent and steady on his feet.

After Connaway was rushed to New Hanover Regional Medical Center, paramedics Heather Stancil and Alan Brook were called out to the home for a check on Hutton’s injuries. Stancil and Brook said they treated Hutton for a split lip.

Stancil reported that Hutton was “hostile” to her questions but that his speech was clear and he could stand without faltering. She performed on Hutton a Glasgow Coma Scale test–a standard procedure EMS employs to objectively determine a patient’s coherence and mental state. Stancil said Hutton received the highest score, 15, on the scale.

But he repeatedly told the paramedics that he was epileptic.

“I finally asked him if he was having a seizure now and he said no,” Stancil said.

Hutton also refused hospital treatment.

But Brook said Hutton did ask if his epilepsy could have caused him to attack Connaway. Both Brook and Stancil described to jurors the paralyzing nature of seizures, which cause sufferers to become almost catatonic during an episode.

Prosecutors will continue to call medical experts to testify on Friday. Connaway and members of her family are also expected to take the stand before it is the defense’s turn to begin calling its witnesses, Hutton among them.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.