From the fourth floor of downtown’s Scott Matheson Courthouse, Josh Shuck takes a moment to look at the City County Building across the street. Even from this height, he can’t see much of the Salt Lake City Public Library, where a drunk man beat him and broke his neck at the 2006 Jazz Festival. And he says that’s just as well.
“It’s strange to think about it,” he says. “That’s where I was attacked a year ago, and a year later, I’m across the street dealing with it.”
Shuck, who moved to Oregon shortly after the July 9, 2006 attack, had returned to Salt Lake City to testify at the trial of his assailant, Marc Handley. But the trial, which had been pushed from July 7 to Oct. 10, never happened. Just minutes before jury selection was to begin, Handley pled guilty to lesser charges of public intoxication — a class C misdemeanor — and assault causing substantial bodily injury — a class A misdemeanor. Handley faced a 2nd degree felony charge of aggravated assault. The maximum penalty for a class A misdemeanor is one year in jail and a fine of $2,500. A class C misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of 90 days imprisonment and a fine of no more than $750.
“I wish he would’ve done that at the beginning,” said Shuck’s attorney, Deputy District Attorney Langdon Fisher. Although Handley will not be sentenced until Nov. 30, Fisher said Handley had “indicated he would pay full restitution” to Shuck. Additionally, Handley could face a maximum of 15 months in prison.
“The judge has a full gamut of options to look at, including sending him in for counseling and alcohol treatment,” said Fisher, who added that the last-minute plea did not come as a surprise to him.
“The best case scenario [for Shuck] would have been a third degree felony, and if Handley was convicted, he would have been entitled to reduction after probation,” said Fisher. “In my mind, the plea made sense.”
The result makes less sense to Shuck’s friends who witnessed the attack. According to them, Handley and a friend approached them as the Jazz Festival ended and made sexually graphic comments at two women in the group. When the group tried to walk away, they say Handley attacked Shuck while screaming anti-gay epithets.
“I turned and saw the guy grab Josh by the collar of his shirt and he hit him in the face,” Shuck’s friend Jennifer Ellis told QSaltLake last year. “I turned again to find my friends and turned back and saw the guy had him in a headlock and he threw his head right to the ground.”
When Ellis screamed, “This guy is a gay-basher!” passers-by attacked Handley and pulled him away from Shuck, who lay helpless on the ground.
Although Ellis was not harmed, she said she was traumatized for weeks after the attack.
“I couldn’t eat or sleep after seeing something like that happen,” she said.
Shuck had to wear a neck brace for several weeks to repair two crushed vertebrae. With his head immobilized, he was unable to work at either of his two jobs, and he was too traumatized to sleep. When a therapist suggested that he might benefit from a fresh start, Shuck took her advice and moved to Oregon.
Over a year later, he says he still experiences severe headaches and back spasms when sitting or standing up. He is also unable to turn his neck.
“Sometimes he’ll say, ‘I can’t sleep because my neck hurts,’” said Rhonda Shuck, who drove down from Wyoming to support her son at the trial. “Josh has to deal with this forever.”
Although Shuck is still in pain, he said that he is doing his best to put the attack behind him. And part of doing that means not attending Handley’s sentencing on Nov. 30.
“If [Handley] did this while drunk, who’s to say he won’t do it again,” he said. “I wish the worst for him because I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.” Q
QSaltLake agreed to change the headline of this story on 12/12/2013 at the request of Handley, who said it was not a “gay bashing” he pled guilty to, but public intoxication and assault.