A Will County judge will consider a motion to find Tiffany Startz not guilty when the Joliet woman’s bench trial in the party game death of John Powell resumes Friday.
On the third day of testimony, Judge Edward Burmila heard from the doctor who performed an autopsy on Powell, the Romeoville man who died after a party stunt gone wrong.
Forensic pathologist Michel Humilier testified that Powell, 25, died of a subarachnoid hemorrhage, or bleeding between the brain and the tissues surrounding the brain, due to blunt force trauma.
“A sharp blow could cause it,” Humilier told prosecutors. Powell did not appear to have any other injuries, he said.
Powell was pronounced dead at Provena Saint Joseph Hospital after collapsing at a Crest Hill house party. After performing alongside his best friend as part of the rap duo Krazy Killaz, Powell agreed to let Startz, 22, punch him in the face, accepting a $5 dare from former co-defendant Jimmy Mounts.
Earlier this week, Mounts pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of obstruction of justice, admitting he initially lied to police, claiming Powell had tripped on a wooden 2-by-4, then fell and hit his head on a concrete garage floor. Mounts’ plea left Startz, a Plainfield South High School graduate, to face charges of battery and reckless conduct alone as her bench trial began Monday.
On Thursday, Humilier testified that it wasn’t necessarily the force of the punch that led to Powell’s death, saying Startz would not have had to hit him hard to cause the injury.
“For this type of injury, it’s more the impulse [than the force of the punch],” he said.
He also said Powell’s experience with mixed martial arts had no bearing on what happened on the day he died.
Was it a crime?
Startz’ attorneys didn’t dispute Powell’s cause of death, but argued that her decision to go along with the party bet didn’t amount to a crime, since Powell agreed to be hit.
“I think it’s undisputed what happened here,” lawyer Ira Goldstein told the judge. “It is very clear that no one forced him to do this.
“There’s no animosity directed toward Mr. Powell,” Goldstein said, adding the Sept. 25 party was the first time the two had met.
“There was nothing in mind that she was committing a wrongful act here,” he said. “ … It was something that was done on the spur of the moment.”
Goldstein likened the incident to boxers sparring in a gym.
“Is that a crime?” he asked. “Is that reckless conduct? … It was a tragic accident. It was a party stunt that went terribly wrong.”
Meanwhile, prosecutors maintained Powell’s consent is not a sufficient defense, despite the “arguably absurd actions” by both Startz and Powell.
“Nobody forced Tiffany Startz to throw that punch,” Assistant State’s Attorney Mike Fitzgerald said. “Hopefully a reasonable person would have the sense to realize how stupid this whole thing was. … At a minimum, she is guilty of battery in this case.”
Burmila said he will consider a motion to find Startz not guilty. The case is set to resume at 10:30 a.m. Friday in Will County.
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