Former Wolverines walk-on acquitted of felony assault, convicted of misdemeanor
A Washtenaw County jury acquitted former University of Michigan football walk-on Michael Milano Thursday of felony assault charges in an on-campus incident that seriously injured a U-M hockey player last year.
But jurors convicted Milano, 23, of aggravated assault in the Oct. 12, 2008, attack on Steven Kampfer as the two men walked home from a bar in separate groups near the East Quad residence hall.
Milano faces up to one year in jail on the misdemeanor conviction when he is sentenced Dec. 3.
But that doesn't appear likely, given a rare statement by Circuit Judge David Swartz, who said he believes Milano is innocent of both counts.
After dismissing the jury, Swartz looked toward Milano and said: “For what it’s worth, I’d find the defendant not guilty and recommend that you file for an order to have it expunged, which I’ll be pleased to sign.”
The statement appeared to surprise the few people remaining in the courtroom just before 5 p.m.
The verdict concluded a four-day trial that focused on testimony from 18 witnesses. Among them were multiple eyewitnesses, former Wolverines head football coach Lloyd Carr and U-M wrestling coach Joe McFarland, who testified on Milano’s behalf.
Prosecutors accused Milano, a former member of U-M’s wrestling team, of attacking Kampfer from behind after a heated argument. Witnesses said they saw Milano lift Kampfer above his waist and drop him over his shoulder.
Kampfer, a budding star defenseman from Jackson, was later injured in a controversial on-ice incident with Michigan State University players that gained national attention and led to suspensions. Serious head and neck injuries after the confrontation with Milano prevented him from playing for more than two months, and Kampfer was injured on the ice soon after he returned.
Now a senior, Kampfer testified he didn’t remember much about the actual assault and had been drinking in celebration of season opening wins.Â He said he went to a downtown bar to meet his ex-girlfriend after 2 a.m., and they argued. He said he grabbed her wrist to keep her from walking away, but was not threatening.
Milano, who also took the stand on the trial’s final day of testimony, said he confronted Kampfer for being rough with the woman, who he had been socializing with at the bar.
Their argument escalated. ButÂ Washtenaw CountyÂ Assistant Prosecutor Paul Barnett emphasized it appeared to be over when Kampfer turned to say a final word that set Milano off.
Carr testified that was out of character for Milano, who was aggressive on the field and in practice, as required, but never off the field.
McFarland testified the move Milano executed in liftingÂ KampferÂ sounded like a textbook wrestling maneuver he’s seen Milano perform numerous times in practice and in competition.
Defense attorney John Shea also railed against the credibility of eyewitnesses, who provided varied accounts of what happened.
The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for nearly seven hours.
While waiting for a verdict, Milano said he moved home to Ohio after graduation and recently took the LSAT as he mulls his career choices. He said his life had been on hold due to the trial, but he hoped to participate in programs to assist underprivileged youth in South Africa or Asia in January.
MilanoÂ did not want to comment after the proceeding, Shea said.
“He’s really disappointed because he believes in his heart that what he testified to is true and that he was justified in the actions that he took,” Shea said.
“He was convicted of overreacting but not because they disbelieved him or the essential truth of the story. I think they thought he was more aggressive than he should be.”
Several jurors declined comment while leaving the courthouse.
Barnett also declined comment following the verdict.
Art Aisner is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2530.