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Ex-Astro Julio Lugo acquitted
July 16, 2003, 4:32PM
By JEFFREY GILBERT and LISA TEACHEY
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle
A jury acquitted former Astros shortstop Julio Lugo of assault today, apparently swayed by his wife's surprise testimony that her husband did not intend to hurt her in a squabble she said she provoked herself.
Lugo was accused of hitting his wife, pushing her and pulling her hair in April. The misdemeanor assault charge was heard by a six-member jury this week in Harris County Criminal Court-At-Law Judge Michael Peters' court.
The verdict came swiftly after the defense rested its case this afternoon without calling any witnesses. In closing arguments, Lugo's lawyer argued the baseball star -- jettisoned by the Astros after the incident -- was only defending himself and blamed Mabely Lugo's divorce lawyer for taking the case so far.
"She wanted to see a big pay day at the end of a divorce case," defense attorney Chris Tritico told jurors. " We're here today because a lawyer.... dropped a ball."
The state's attorney, however, told the jury the case was "classic domestic violence." It was sad to watch Mabely testify and change her story, said prosecutor Catherine Evans.
"How sad is it to hear a woman say over and over, 'I hit myself against the truck... I provoked him... it was my fault."
Prosecutors had rested their case this morning after an emergency room nurse testified that on April 30, Mabely Lugo arrived at St. Joseph's Hospital in downtown Houston sitting on a stretcher and told the nurse that her husband had hurt her.
On cross-examination, however, nurse Kathy Contreras said the wounds required no stitches, only a pain pill, and probably did not warrant an emergency room visit.
Shortly after the nurse's testimony, Lugo's attorney unsuccessfully petitioned the judge to throw out the case because there were no witnesses and Mabely Lugo had exonerated her husband.
Mabely Lugo's testimony in her husband's misdemeanor assault trial on Tuesday contradicted accounts she gave to authorities in April and as late as last week to prosecutors.
"I exaggerated because of the state that I was in ... but it was not something that I needed to call police," she testified through a Spanish interpreter. "I regret having done that."
The police report, which was taken solely from his wife's statement, alleges he hit her while driving on the freeway and then slammed her head into the driver's side of their SUV in the Minute Maid Park garage while trying to take away her house key.
The Astros designated Lugo, 29, for assignment the day after his arrest. He has since signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Mabely Lugo, 26, testified her husband did not mean to hit her as he drove along U.S. 59. She said she wanted to talk about a family problem. He did not and turned up the radio when she started yelling at him about it.
She said she reached from the passenger seat to turn it down and he used his arm to push hers away and struck her in the mouth in the process. Her lip was cut on the inside against her braces.
"But that was not intentional," Mabely Lugo said. "That was without him wanting to."
When the couple arrived at the ballpark downtown, Julio Lugo started to take the house key off the key ring, Mabely said. She walked around to the driver's side of the car where he was standing and started swatting at his hands for the keys.
She said he grabbed her hair to stop her. As she thrashed to break free, she bumped into the open driver's-side door, causing a lump on her forehead. She said that when he bent over to pick up the dropped keys, she hit him on his back. As he stood back up, she said, he pushed her away.
During direct examination, Evans indicated Mabely Lugo was telling a different version of the story that she told in Evans' office last week before the trial.
"At that moment (on the day of the incident) I did not see what I had done to him, only what he had done to me," Mabely Lugo said. "I see it differently now."
Evans did not comment on Mabely Lugo's testimony Tuesday, which is standard when a trial is ongoing.
During cross-examination by Tritico, Mabely Lugo said she realized a few days after the incident she had "exaggerated" and wanted to correct it.
She said the first person she called after leaving the garage and stopping in front of the ball park was her divorce lawyer, who told her to call 911.
The couple, who have been married for more than four years, had been talking about getting divorced since January, the month their first child was born. Both have since filed for divorce.
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