- Associated Press - Friday, December 19, 2014

MUSCATINE, Iowa (AP) - A Muscatine man has been acquitted of first-degree murder in the August beating death of another man.

A jury found Jose Tapia Jr. not guilty Thursday following a two-day trial, ruling there wasn’t enough proof that Tapia planned to kill 39-year-old Michael Newman by striking him in the head with a baseball bat on Aug. 8.

“I’ve known ‘JR’ (Tapia) my whole life. This has ruined two lives and two families,” said Gene Larue, Newman’s father-in-law. He told the Muscatine Journal (https://bit.ly/1CbpcFB) the two families have known each other for many years.

Newman was hospitalized and placed in a medically induced coma before he died on Aug. 21 from his injuries.

Tapia told police that Newman first approached him wielding the bat during an altercation and hit him with it. Tapia said he took the bat after Newman dropped it and hit him once in self-defense.

During closing arguments, Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren pointed out that Tapia could have walked away from the fight whenever Newman dropped the bat.

An autopsy showed that Newman had been hit at least three times in the head, contradicting Tapia’s statements to police claiming that he struck Newman only once.

“Just how many times do you have to hit somebody in the head with a baseball bat?” Ostergren asked.

But Tapia’s attorney countered that the distance between where the fight began and where Newman eventually fell was between 30 and 40 feet, meaning that Tapia was attempting to back away from the fight and was then forced to defend himself.

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Information from: Muscatine Journal, https://www.muscatinejournal.com

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