Self-defense argued in 2011 Northern Lights knife attack
BALLSTON SPA Joe Fritz staggered over to the Cumberland Farms on Route 146, bleeding profusely and clutching a roughly 16-inch wound across his abdomen.
Behind the 40-year-old unemployed Schenectady man was a roughly 300-foot-long trail of blood leading to a grassy knoll in the parking lot of the Northern Lights nightclub where he had been drinking Nov. 26, 2011. When asked who had gravely injured him, Fritz immediately named 28-year-old Daniel Taylor of Caroga Lake — an acquaintance he knew from various bars around the Capital Region.
Fritz couldn’t recall exactly what transpired, aside from getting into a scuffle with Taylor and suddenly feeling the sensation of being struck with something on his side. Taylor didn’t deny wounding Fritz, but said he only pulled the knife after the drunken Fritz started an altercation with him that caused him to fear serious injury.
“This act was justified under the circumstances,” defense attorney Fred Rench said during closing arguments of Taylor’s two-week trial Friday.
Taylor is accused of one count of first-degree assault and two counts of second-degree assault, all felonies. He was also charged with one misdemeanor count of weapons possession following his arrest.
At issue in the case was a significant size disparity between the sturdy 180-pound Taylor and the much-shorter 136-pound Fritz. Assistant District Attorney Debra Kaelin argued that Taylor could have easily walked away from Fritz or at least overpowered the smaller, unarmed man physically instead of resorting to potentially lethal force.
“No degree of evidence shows Joe Fritz was going to use deadly physical force on this man,” she said, pointing to Taylor. “And Joe Fritz was an unarmed man.”
Jurors began deliberating in the case shortly after noon, but didn’t reach a verdict Friday. They are expected to continue deliberations Monday.
Rench argued Taylor pulled the knife in self-defense after Fritz shoved him to the ground and jumped on his back. He said his client only wanted to ward of his attacker with the knife, fearing a fracas could aggravate a nagging shoulder injury he sustained years earlier, causing the joint to dislocate and leaving him defenseless.
Rench also cited the record Fritz had of drunken driving arrests and how he frequently antagonized Taylor, a sculptor, with disparaging remarks. He said Fritz would make physical gestures toward Taylor — patting him on the head, for instance — intended to show his dominance.
“Joe Fritz didn’t respect Dan,” he said. “Joe Fritz’s attitude toward Dan was one of contempt.”
Both Fritz and Taylor were at Northern Lights prior to the attack. Fritz had arrived during the afternoon with a designated driver who later left him alone at the bar; Taylor was at the club with Beth Ann Feldman, his girlfriend, who Rench said was coveted by Fritz.
Rench claimed Fritz was highly intoxicated and began antagonizing his client in the bar. Then, when Taylor’s girlfriend left to get fresh air, he said Fritz followed her into the parking lot.
Taylor caught up with Fritz, and the two got into an altercation.
Rench said Fritz shoved into his client’s back, forcing him to one knee and prompting him to draw the pocket knife with a three-inch blade. But when Taylor went to brandish the knife, Rench said Fritz moved into its razor-sharp blade.
“He spins,” Rench said demonstrating for the jury, “and Fritz moves into the knife.”
Kaelin countered this notion, citing testimony of a cabbie who was parked in the lot and saw the altercation break out between the two men. The cabbie claimed he saw a taller man shove a shorter man to the ground and then hover over him.
The prosecutor acknowledged Fritz wasn’t the most polished individual and did use “middle school language” that was offensive. Yet these elements of his character, she argued, did not justify the force Taylor used during the altercation.
Fritz suffered a gash that went through three layers of clothing and the zipper of his leather vest and extended from rib to rib, Kaelin said. The injury left a gash in his liver and forced him to have his gallbladder removed; Fritz required roughly 65 staples to close the wound, which left him with a large scar on his abdomen.
“And if Joe had fallen on that knife, it would have been a puncture wound,” she said.
Kaelin also cited Taylor’s apparent indifference to the wound he inflicted on Fritz. Instead of calling for help, she said he rejoined his girlfriend at a nearby Cumberland Farms and then tossed the knife into a wooded area behind a shopping center.
“The defendant walked away from a man who was eviscerated,” she said.