Judge declares mistrial in Mike Wallace case
A Mecklenburg County judge declared a mistrial Wednesday in the case against three men accused of assaulting NASCAR driver Mike Wallace and his daughter after a June concert at PNC Amphitheater.
District Judge Ronald Chapman stopped the trial after learning that two potential witnesses in the trial violated the judge’s order and remained in the courtroom to hear testimony. The case began Tuesday and had been expected to run into Friday.
A spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office said prosecutors will retry the case.
The witnesses involved were Robert Wood, a companion of Wallace on the night of the concert and a participant in the fight, and Joshua Bluchar, a PNC Amphitheater employee who came upon the brawl as he was leaving work. Both were expected to give key testimony in the trial. Now, both are charged with civil contempt of court and will return to Chapman’s courtroom next month for a hearing.
Before the trial, the judge gave lengthy instructions to prospective witnesses, which included his decision that they be banned from the courtroom until after they had testified. So-called sequestration is common in courtrooms, with judges and attorneys not wanting witnesses to hear anything in court that could influence their testimony.
Wood and Bluchar, however, sat through portions of the opening testimony in the case. When Assistant District Attorney William Biggers learned of it, he shared the information with defense lawyers George Laughrun, Kenneth Swain and Joe Ledford before court on Wednesday.
The two witnesses were brought in and interviewed by the attorneys. When court began, the defense team called for a mistrial. Chapman considered the motion over lunch, then came back in to announce the trial was over. Chapman also angrily lectured Wood and Bluchar before finding them in contempt, an observer said.
While Laughrun said he was disappointed that prosecutors intend to retry the case, he believes Wood’s and Bluchar’s actions made it impossible for the current trial to continue.
“These were not incidental witnesses,” he said. “Judge Chapman, as tough a decision as he faced, absolutely made he right call.”
Wallace attorney Jon Burns said the family “is disappointed that there was a mistrial, and they look forward to having their day in court.”
Wallace and his daughter Lindsey were hospitalized after a brawl following the June 17 Rascal Flatts concert at PNC.
Paul Lucas is charged with assault inflicting serious injuries, assault on a female, and assault and battery. Nathan Lucas is accused of assault with inflicting serious injury, and assault and battery. Both are sons of the owner of PNC Amphitheater’s former landscaping company, Lucas Landscaping. The venue fired the company after the incident.
Randolph Mangum is charged with simple assault and assault inflicting serious injury.
Attorneys for the three pleaded not guilty before the start of the trial. In cross-examinations, the three defense attorneys began laying the groundwork that Wallace was injured in a fight that began as a parking lot argument before the concert. Wallace, they said, was a principal player in both the disagreement and the fight.
They also implied in their questioning of witnesses that additional criminal charges were filed against their clients by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police because of Wallace’s celebrity.
For his part, the NASCAR driver said he, friends and family members rode in two cars to the concert and were directed into their VIP parking spot by one of the defendants.
After the concert, Wallace said he saw the same man struggling to find his way out of the amphitheater. Back in the parking lot, he noticed the man emerging from the crowd gathered where the Wallace group had parked their cars.
“Looks like your boy made it back,” Wallace said he told members of the large group. “One of the gentleman standing there said, ‘That’s his mom.’ I said, ‘Hi mom, how you doing?’ ”
Wallace said he then noticed a younger man in a gray sleeveless T-shirt standing in the bed of a pickup – later identified as Nathan Lucas – flailing his arms and spewing profanity and screaming for someone, maybe Wallace, “to get out of here.”
“If 10 is at loud volume, he was a 20,” Wallace told the judge. “I looked up and said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ”
That was the last thing Wallace said he remembered – other than being struck in the face.
Witness Niki Melton, a family friend of Wallace’s, said she had the unconscious driver’s bloodied and swollen head in her lap when she said someone kicked Wallace in the back of the head, splattering her with blood.
When Wallace came to Melton said he was “obsessed” with finding his attacker. “We need to get that little m------------,” Melton quoted him as saying.
Under cross-examination from Laughrun and Swain, a competing narrative began to surface. Wallace acknowledged having four vodka and Diet Cokes between 6 and 10 p.m. He also admitted having active prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication and other drugs that were not to be taken with alcohol.
The attorneys also took frequent trips to the witness stand to show Wallace video, not visible to the courtroom audience, that revealed that the driver fully engaged in the brawl. “It looks like I was the guy on the bottom of that,” Wallace said at one point.
Wallace testified that he didn’t recall the events shown in the footage and, in fact, had never watched the full video before.
“I don’t like to look at it,” he told Swain. “I got the crap beat out of me. I hurt. ... It kind of messes with you a little bit.”
Swain pushed back. He asked Wallace whether his poor recollection of certain events had anything to do “with how much you had to drink?”