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What you need to know for 07/24/2017

Hilton convicted in police beating case

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Hilton convicted in police beating case

A Schenectady County Court jury found James Hilton guilty on all counts Wednesday afternoon in conne
Hilton convicted in police beating case
James D. Hilton, of Glens Falls, leaves his arraignment from Schenectady City Court on August 4, 2015. Hilton was arrested for assaulting city Officer Mark Weekes on State Street in Schenectady during a dispute at 2:22 a.m. August 1,2015.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

A Schenectady County Court jury found James Hilton guilty Wednesday afternoon in connection with the August 2015 beating of a Schenectady police officer.

The jury took about two hours to return its verdict and reject Hilton’s mental health-related defense.

Hilton, 33, of Glens Falls, stood trial on one count each of assault on a police officer, second-degree assault and second-degree strangulation, all felonies.

The jury convicted him on all charges. He now faces a maximum possible term of 15 years in prison when he is sentenced in December.

Judge Frank P. Milano ordered Hilton, who has been free on $100,000 bail, to be taken into custody pending his December sentencing.

Prosecutor Christina Tremante-Pelham afterward pointed to the relatively brief time the jury took to decide the case and reject the defense mental health contentions.

City police officer Mark Weekes suffered a fractured skull, a broken finger and a deep bruise to his neck in the attack, which happened early in the morning on Aug. 1, 2015 on State Street.

The ferocity of the attack can be heard on audio captured on Weekes’ in-car video camera. The camera itself did not capture the assault, but Weekes’ microphone captured audio.

Attack on Schenectady police officer

The video includes the faint, 40-second interaction between the officer and Hilton, an amateur Mixed Martial Arts fighter.

It also includes the subsequent sounds of 26 to 28 punches prosecutors argued Hilton threw at Weekes over the next 20 seconds, leaving Weekes unconscious. More than 45 seconds then pass until a dazed Weekes staggers in front of his patrol car to get help.

Weekes, who returned to patrols in November 2015, welcomed the conviction afterward, expressing his appreciation to the jury, prosecutors, his fellow officers and the public.

“I’m thrilled that they convicted, that they saw exactly what happened through a lot of testimony,” Weekes said. “I think throughout this thing, the best part of this whole situation is that the police officers out there get to see that the community does still support the police department.”

Weekes said he received overwhelming support in the aftermath of the attack and during the trial in the form of cards and well-wishes. He’s still working through all his thank-yous.

Tremante-Pelham argued Hilton turned a routine police questioning over odd behavior into a vicious attack on an officer by a trained fighter.

The prosecutor highlighted Hilton’s multiple subsequent accounts of the attack that included lack of memory, then memory but an out-of-body experience, as well as changing details of the incident itself. In the end, she highlighted the account he gave to detectives shortly after his arrest and hours after the attack as showing what she argued really motivated the attack, that “Nobody lays his hands on me, not even an officer of the police.”

Hilton was defended by attorney Lincy Jacob. She could not be reached later for comment. But she argued at trial that Hilton, who served in Iraq as a Marine, should not be held criminally responsible due to post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder.

Had the defense succeeded, it would have left the judge to determine if Hilton’s current state and whether he should have been committed to an institution for treatment.

The defense offered an expert who argued Hilton fit the definition for the defense, while the prosecution countered with its own expert to argue that Hilton’s actions and medical history did not meet the high standards for the mental disease or defect defense.

Tremante-Pelham said she has yet to decide what term to recommend in December. She said she and Jacob spoke with members of the jury afterward and jurors expressed an appreciation for the work that officers do.

“They said that they feel safer at night now having heard from so many police officers and the they were so taken with their testimony and the way they handled themselves that they said that they feel safer,” Tremante-Pelham said.

The jurors also appreciated how Weekes handled the incident, trying to de-escalate it and give Hilton a chance. Weekes first spotted Hilton dancing with a traffic cone, admonished him to stop and return it. Weekes then left.

He soon returned, however, saw Hilton with the cone again and got out to speak with him. Hilton refused to provide identification, Weekes moved to detain Hilton by handcuffing him and Hilton turned and attacked.

After his testimony, Weekes watched much of the trial from the gallery. Otherwise, he remains on patrol, having largely recovered from his injuries. Weekes joined the department in 2008 and is himself a veteran of the Air Force.

Some of those injuries linger, including periodic headaches. He said Wednesday he intends to continue doing what he’s been doing.

“There are still some lasting effects that I’ve got to work through and deal with,” Weekes said, “but it’s nothing that’s going to stop me from doing my job.”

Reach Gazette reporter Steven Cook at 395-3122, scook@dailygazette.net or @ByStevenCook on Twitter.

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