A Waldorf woman was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter Thursday for her role in the beating death of a Port Tobacco man outside the Good Times bar south of La Plata last November.
Briana D. Washington, 25, was the first of three suspects to be tried in the death of Robert Aughinbaugh, 32, who was kicked and beaten during an altercation in the parking lot that stemmed from an earlier dispute inside the bar.
Judge Steven G. Chappelle of Charles County Circuit Court, where the case was tried without a jury, said that he was satisfied Washington was involved in the beating but that he was unsure whether she intended to seriously injure or kill Aughinbaugh. So although the judge convicted Washington of the manslaughter charge, he acquitted her of murder and mayhem charges. She also was convicted of second-degree assault.
When Chappelle read his decision Thursday evening, sobs could be heard from Washington's supporters in the packed courtroom in La Plata. Washington, who faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, was placed in handcuffs and led out of the room. Just before she reached the door, she turned to look back at relatives and friends, her face contorted in grief.
"We're disappointed with the verdict," said Washington's attorney, Robert C. Bonsib of Greenbelt, although he said he was pleased that Chappelle acquitted her of murder. "I know Miss Washington is very sorry about what happened."
During the four-day trial, Deputy State's Attorney Anthony Covington said Aughinbaugh's death early Nov. 14, 2004, stemmed from a confrontation inside Good Times involving a woman who was with Aughinbaugh and another woman.
"This all starts from somebody bumping into somebody else on a dance floor," Covington said in his closing argument.
Outside that night, the two women got into a fight, and Aughinbaugh tried to break it up, Covington said; then Kevin Kiley of Waldorf allegedly punched him to the ground. Then Kiley, Richard Eckloff of Accokeek and Washington beat and kicked Aughinbaugh until he died, the prosecutor said.
"It's a sustained, deliberate, purposeful assault. This isn't a couple of quick kicks and we're out of here," Covington told the judge, adding that the suspects were "actually holding onto the truck for leverage in order to get in as good a . . . stomp as they can get. And that's all three of them, your honor."
Bonsib used his closing argument to try to undermine the credibility of witnesses who were outside the bar that night, citing the amount of alcohol they had consumed, line-of-sight problems, their relationships with Washington and conflicting information in statements given to police and to the court. He said Washington's statement to authorities admitted only that she might have had contact with Aughinbaugh's leg.
"At the very, very worst what that statement admits to is some potential contact with him in a noncriminal sense," Bonsib argued.
Chappelle said that he found the testimony of several witnesses to be not very credible but that he relied heavily on two witnesses who he thought were unbiased. They described two men and a woman involved in the beating and said the three left in the same car. One of the witnesses provided police with a vehicle tag number that ended up being correct, which Chappelle said would make the witness "more observant than most people."
Chappelle then focused on Washington's testimony. He described her as a "person that found herself in a situation that was just overwhelming to her, and she's torn." He said her comments that she may have kicked Aughinbaugh, or may have stepped on him, were unconvincing.
"I don't think that innocent people make these kinds of statements," he said.
Bonsib said his client would appeal the conviction.
Kiley and Eckloff are awaiting trial.
Bob Aughinbaugh, the victim's father, said that after the verdict, the family felt "like we're getting some justice."
"You can't kick defenseless people when they're on the ground," he said.