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Thursday, December 18, 2003
Three charged with assault and battery news services

BOSTON -- Free-agent pitcher Jeff Nelson, Yankees outfielder Karim Garcia and a Fenway Park groundskeeper were charged with assault and battery Thursday for fighting in New York's bullpen during a playoff game.

Clerk Magistrate Michael Neighbors called the case against the two players "weak," because no eyewitness or police officers who were at the game testified during a probable cause hearing last week. But he said the police report contained enough evidence to go forward, despite a lack of eyewitnesses.

Yankees spokesman Rick Cerrone said the team had no immediate comment. Red Sox spokesman Kevin Shea said the team was confident authorities would handle the case appropriately.

The fight took place during a rowdy Game 3 of the AL Championship Series on Oct. 11, just innings after a bench-clearing melee that started when Garcia was beaned by a pitch from Pedro Martinez. The groundskeeper, Paul Williams, said he was attacked by Nelson after the Yankee reliever bumped him, swore and told him to leave the Yankee bullpen if he was going to cheer for Boston.

But Nelson said during last week's hearing that it was Williams who provoked the fight after he calmly asked him not to cheer for Boston in the bullpen.

In issuing his ruling Thursday, Neighbors said the lack of defensive wounds on the groundskeeper's hands could suggest that Williams was the aggressor.

Williams' attorney, Patrick Jones said his client was "disappointed but not surprised" at the ruling and took issue with Neighbors' characterization of the case against the players as "weak." A probable cause hearing is not a mini-trial, Jones said, and police aren't expected to present all their evidence and witnesses. That will all come out at trial, he said.

"I think the case the detectives built was a very strong one," he said.

Williams was treated for injuries at a local hospital and left wearing a neck brace. He's considering a civil suit, Jones said.

Yankee right fielder Garcia, who jumped over the outfield fence into the bullpen to join the fight, did not attend last week's hearing. Neighbors said this impeded the legal process and deprived Garcia of the chance to tell his side of the story.

His lawyer, Gerard Malone, said Garcia didn't attend on his advice.

Nelson, Garcia and Williams all did not attend Thursday's hearing.

The misdemeanor assault charges carry a maximum penalty of 2 years in prison or a $500 fine. Neighbors scheduled arraignments for Nelson, Garcia and Williams for Jan. 7.

"We'll now have an opportunity for a full and fair hearing," said Nelson's lawyer, James Merberg, before declining further comment.

Malone said the finding of probable cause against Garcia was not unexpected.

"The burden is not beyond a reasonable doubt, the burden is probable cause," he said. "This is just the first step. The evidence presented was minimal but sufficient."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.