A federal jury has ruled that a man was acting in self-defense when he stabbed a stranger during a dispute about a lost puppy on the Great Falls waterfront two years ago.
The finding Saturday followed a 3½-day trial at the District courthouse that captivated the region in part because of its nature as the workplace of Justice Clarence Thomas, who was not present. The defendant, Charles Monnett, had to retreat as crowds gathered outside court to witness the verdict.
Monnett said he attacked a man named Bryan Crawford in the May 2017 altercation because he was in fear for his life after Crawford repeatedly pounded his fist on Monnett’s back, then slashed at his back door with a knife after yelling, “Get off my property, man.” Crawford, a Vietnam War veteran who was remarried in 2016, said his attack had been motivated by Monnett’s taunting after losing a puppy to Crawford’s stepmother.
Monnett stabbed Crawford in the left side of his abdomen, just beneath his rib cage. Crawford testified in court that Monnett had repeatedly yelled “F― you,” as Crawford swung his fist. A few feet away, Monnett told police, Crawford was cursing and making “sexual shapes” in an apparent effort to display a sex toy.
After he was stabbed, Crawford collapsed into Monnett’s arms. In court, Crawford said he lost his sense of balance, fell and hit his head. He then made his way away from the melee with four friends and collapsed in the grass near the sculpture area near the Francis Scott Key Bridge.
Monnett’s attorney, John Thompson, said in his closing argument that Crawford, 48, was the aggressor and that his client acted in self-defense when he stabbed Crawford once in the chest. Monnett suffered five stab wounds to his back. Thompson said he stabbed Crawford because Crawford charged.
“It was not self-defense. It was a grand larceny in a public place,” Thompson said in court. “The evidence is clear.”
Crawford testified that he felt he was entitled to keep Monnett’s lost puppy because his wife had rescued the bull terrier and named it G-Man after his stepmother. Crawford had noticed the puppy’s breed inside the parking lot and thought the breed might be retriever, the stray they found.
Then, Crawford said, Monnett marched toward him, saying, “Don’t be stupid,” and asking for the puppy. Crawford said he went up to Monnett in the parking lot, and the two got into a verbal fight after Monnett cursed and then pointed a gun at Crawford.
“I was like, ‘Come on, man,’ ” Crawford said.
Monnett denied he was armed and said Crawford had approached him with an air soft pellet gun and shot it at him. He said Crawford then swung his fist into his back and tried to punch him.
Thompson said he took issue with the idea that Crawford had brought a gun or pistol to the fight. “We have military veterans who have killed people with guns,” Thompson said, referencing the police shooting of an unarmed Michael Brown.
But Crawford said he had no gun or pistol and had only a flash drive on him. Thompson said he could not rule out the possibility that Crawford was carrying such a weapon, and he asked jurors to consider it.
Monnett, who left a New York City bank job to live in Virginia, said he decided to move to the area after a close friend was stabbed to death in his apartment. But after the fight with Crawford, he left the city to stay with a friend, he testified.
Monnett said he feels remorse for hurting Crawford and has since forgiven him.
“I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel sorry for him,” Monnett said. “I hope it was worth it.”
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