Charges against a former University of Massachusetts student accused of stabbing two men during a racially charged fight could be dismissed in two months under an agreement reached Friday between prosecutors and defense lawyers.
Jason Vassell was sentenced to 2 1/2 years of probation in Hampshire Superior Court. He was credited with the two years and four months he has spent on pretrial probation since his February 2008 arrest, meaning if he remains out of trouble through August, the charges would be dismissed.
Vassell, who is black, was charged with aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in the stabbings of two white non-students on the Amherst campus.
Vassell's lawyers said their client acted in self defense after John Bowes and Jonathan Bosse broke his dorm room window and racially taunted him. Prosecutors say video surveillance of the fight clearly shows that Vassell, wearing a hooded sweat shirt and ski mask, was the aggressor.
Prosecutors agreed to give Vassell probation after reviewing his medical records, which showed he received a broken nose and contusion on his jaw in the fight, and after seeing his school records, which helped explain his state of mind, Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Dunphy Farris said. She did not disclose what was in those records.
All three men had been drinking, Farris said.
In the agreement, Vassell acknowledged that he stabbed the two men, acknowledged that he had other avenues available to him and expressed regret, she said.
She also defended the two stabbing victims, saying they still bear the physical scars and have endured "unwarranted attacks on their character."
The case sparked passionate rallies in support of the biology major, and accusations of racism against police and prosecutors.
Vassell said he was in his ground-floor dorm room with friends when the two white men who were on campus visiting friends tapped on his window to ask for directions, according to authorities. An argument broke out, the two visitors smashed his window and taunted him with racial insults. Vassell, feeling threatened, called a friend from a neighboring dorm for help.
He grabbed a knife and went to his dorm lobby to open the door for his friend. When he did, the two white men entered and a fight broke out.
Bowes was convicted of disorderly conduct but acquitted of civil rights violations. Bosse was never charged.
The university community rallied behind Vassell, who withdrew from school following the fight and moved home to Boston.
Supporters claimed prosecutors were motivated by race. Vassell had no criminal past, they said, while Bosse and Bowes had a history of causing trouble.
His lawyers requested and were granted five years of data on racial violence and hate crimes in Hampshire County.
Race played no part in the case, or the agreement, Farris said Friday.
This program aired on June 4, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.