GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - A Kent County jury deliberated about 30 minutes Thursday before convicting an Ada teen of second-degree murder in the road rage beating death of a 64-year-old retiree in a church parking lot.
An assistant prosecutor called the Sept. 29, 2016 incident a "savage attack'' that went on for several minutes. He asked jurors to find 19-year-old Christian Hillman guilty of second-degree murder.
Hillman's defense team called the incident a tragedy, but said the teen was assaulted and, overcome with emotion, beat William McFarlan along Whitneyville Avenue SE. They asked jurors to consider the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Hillman, who turned 19 in March, will return to Kent County Circuit Court for sentencing on July 24th. He is facing up to life in prison.
Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Blair Lachman said he was pleased with the verdict.
"Anytime you have a second-degree murder case, it’s an emotional case for both sides,'' he said. "I feel for the families on both sides of the case, but we’re very pleased. We think a just outcome came.’’
He said the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter was inappropriate given the overwhelming evidence against Hillman, including eyewitness accounts that he kicked McFarlan several times after McFarlan collapsed beside his pickup truck.
"I think just because someone gets angry in a road rage incident, it doesn’t justify assaulting and killing a man,'' Lachman said. “I think if they came back with manslaughter, the excuse for people would be we can handle these situations violently; it shouldn’t be that message.’’
Attorneys for Hillman declined comment.
McFarlan, a retiree from General Motors, died nearly five weeks after the beating in southern Kent County. He suffered several fractured ribs, broken facial bones and a fractured skull. Emergency room doctors gave him little chance of survival.
Hillman was initially charged with assault with intent to commit great bodily harm less than murder, a 10-year felony. The charge was upgraded after McFarlan's death on Oct. 31.
According to testimony, Hillman was riding a dirt bike after sunset along Whitneyville. McFarlan was returning from a fishing trip. McFarlan's pickup was behind Hillman; the driver began flashing his bright lights and sounding the horn.
Hillman pulled into a church parking lot; McFarlan followed, defense attorney Michael Bartish said.
“Whatever happened, Mr. McFarlan is following Christian into that parking lot,'' Bartish told jurors in closing arguments on Thursday. “There is no reason for that vehicle to have followed him into that parking lot unless the intent was for a fight.’’
Bartish said voluntary manslaughter is proper because the fight happened in the heat of passion, was caused by adequate provocation and there wasn't adequate time for Hillman to cool off.
Lachman, the Kent County assistant prosecutor, said Hillman continued the attack on McFarlan long after McFarlan fell to the ground.
"What takes place after the man is unconscious alone is second-degree murder,'' he told jurors during closing arguments. “He’s kicking him in the head with a steel-toe boot after he’s unconscious and lying in his own pool of blood. Second-degree murder? There is no question.’’
Hillman previously said he defended himself when McFarlan grabbed his neck.
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