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D.C. man convicted of lesser charge of manslaughter in neighbor’s stabbing

A Southeast Washington man who fatally stabbed a neighbor who he thought let a dog soil his lawn was found guilty Friday of manslaughter.

During the week-long trial in D.C. Superior Court, prosecutors argued that Ellsworth Colbert, 57, killed Robert Leroy Wright, 36, on March 4 after confronting the victim as he was walking a friend’s dog in their Penn Branch neighborhood.

Colbert was first charged with second-degree murder. Prosectors later elevated the charges to first-degree murder after authorities discovered Colbert walked from his house in the 3500 block of Pope Street SE to Wright’s home with a knife and walking stick and attacked Wright during the confrontation. Authorities said there was no sign that the pit bull, named Macho, actually soiled Colbert’s lawn.

“All of this was because of a dog. Mr. Wright’s mortal sin was that the dog walked on that man’s front lawn and now he’s dead,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Feitel said in his closing arguments.

As the two men got into a scuffle in front of the house, Colbert stabbed Wright four times while Wright struck Colbert in his head with a shovel. One witness testified that Wright grabbed the shovel to defend himself after Colbert stabbed him in the neck.

Colbert’s attorney, James Beane, argued that Colbert was defending himself after being attacked by Wright and Wright’s two friends. Beane characterized Wright as a violent man who terrorized the neighborhood and was often intoxicated, as he was at the time of the confrontation. Beane also told the jury that Wright had a 1998 weapons conviction in North Carolina.

Colbert “was in the struggle for his life,” Beane argued. "He lives today, because he won.”

After about two days of deliberations, the jury acquitted Colbert on the more serious charges of first- and second-degree murder. Those charges could have carried a maximum of life in prison. The jury instead found Colbert guilty of manslaughter and weapons charges. Colbert could face a maximum of 45 years in prison when he is sentenced March 19 by Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr.

Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of slain federal intern Chandra Levy.

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