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Published: Wednesday, 12/18/2002

Witness in murder trial says he saw victim beaten

A Toledo man yesterday told a Lucas County Common Pleas Court jury that he saw James Reaster beating Nelson Shepherd just before he left Mr. Reaster's house in East Toledo.

Robert Allen Brown, testifying in Mr. Reaster's murder trial, said he saw a badly injured Mr. Shepherd lying on the floor when he left Mr. Reaster's house at 2222 Seaman St. about midnight Jan. 24.

“At the time I left, he was lying on the ground. His chest started having some sort of spasms,” Brown said. “I saw that and I left. He didn't look good.”

The next day, police found Mr. Shepherd, 65, of Jerusalem Township, slumped behind the steering wheel of a car parked in the driveway at 2220 Seaman. He had been beaten and his neck was broken.

Prosecutors said Mr. Reaster, 37, initially told police that Brown and Mr. Shepherd were wrestling in the living room and, during the struggle, they fell into the basement through an open stairwell.

However, when questioned again in August, Mr. Reaster said the two men fought and he ordered them to leave. Instead, he said, Brown threw himself against Mr. Shepherd, breaking his neck. He told police that he later put the victim in the car.

Brown, who lived across the street, said he joined Mr. Reaster and Mr. Shepherd about 6 p.m. at the house, where they drank vodka and Sprite. He said Mr. Shepherd, for no apparent reason, attacked him and repeatedly punched him on the head.

Brown told the jury that Mr. Reaster grabbed Mr. Shepherd and threw him about three to four feet to the floor, then began beating Mr. Shepherd.

Brown told the jury that neither he nor the victim fell down the stairs into the basement at any time during the night. He said he left and slept at a friend's apartment, learning later that Mr. Shepherd had died.

In June, Brown, 30, of 614 Woodsdale Ave., pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. He is to be sentenced tomorrow by Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Charles Doneghy.

He testified he pleaded to the charge even though he did not believe he was directly responsible for the death. In return for his plea, prosecutors recommended he serve four years in prison, he said.

The trial, which is being heard by visiting Judge Michael Kelbley of Seneca County, is to resume today.

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