PORTLAND – Relatives of Roger Downs Jr. shed tears of relief Wednesday as they heard a jury forewoman announce that Ernest Brian Weidul was guilty of manslaughter in Downs’ death two years ago.

Carly Downs, the victim’s 26-year-old daughter, rushed out of the courtroom sobbing. She said later that she felt Weidul was guilty but didn’t know what to expect from the jury. “You just have to have faith,” she said.

In returning their verdict, jurors indicated that they did not believe Weidul, 52, acted in self-defense when the two men fought, and that the beating inflicted by Weidul led to Downs’ death on May 7, 2010.

The jury, which deliberated for about four hours, also convicted Weidul of aggravated assault and driving after license suspension.

The two men were strangers when they encountered each other on May 5, 2010. Weidul had scraped his truck on the guardrail near Downs’ apartment on Forest Avenue when Downs invited him inside to use the telephone. They then drank a bottle of coffee brandy, bought a second bottle and got into a fight.

Downs was unable to open his eyes when he woke on May 6, and fell asleep again. He woke up again and called for an ambulance to take him to Mercy Hospital. He had broken facial bones, his eyes were bruised and swollen shut, and he had a cut lip.

He could not recall what had happened, but he knew he had been drinking with “Brian” the previous night.

Downs, who was 46, went into severe respiratory distress at the hospital. The doctor was unable to insert a breathing tube because of swelling in Downs’ neck. The doctor performed a tracheotomy, but it was too late.

Wednesday’s verdicts brought resolution to a case that had taken twists and turns.

The trial was delayed when the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that Downs had streptococcal pneumonia when he died, raising the possibility for the defense that he was killed by the undiagnosed and untreated disease rather than his injuries.

It was delayed again by Weidul’s attempt to fire his court-appointed lawyers, who ended up staying on the case with a newly assigned attorney.

And earlier this month, the start of the trial was pushed back several days as Mercy Hospital fought the judge’s order to produce information related to reviews of Downs’ death.

The prosecution argued that blows to Downs’ neck caused the closing of his airway. It maintained that if Downs had aspiration pneumonia, caused by the entry of foreign material into the lungs, it would have been caused by the beating.

The defense said Weidul acted in self-defense as he was pinned down by the larger man, who kept swinging at him. It said the source of Downs’ pneumonia was likely a glass he shared with Weidul, who had bronchitis that could have developed into pneumonia.

Downs was vulnerable, as an alcoholic with a weak immune system, and likely aspirated after vomiting, according to Weidul’s defense.

The prosecutor, Deputy Attorney General William Stokes, said it was retribution — not self-defense — when Weidul pummeled Downs’ face and neck. Stokes said it was the beating that led to the closing of Downs’ airway and his pneumonia.

“You can’t ignore the blunt-force trauma in this case, even though Mr. Downs had other health issues,” he said.

Weidul’s lawyer, Thomas Connolly, said the jury worked diligently but did not agree with the defense that the evidence was favorable to the defendant. “It’s very emotional and it makes the case very difficult,” he said.

Weidul appeared calm as the verdicts were announced, and he was handcuffed later. He has no living family members, Connolly said.

Weidul is expected to be sentenced in about three weeks in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court. His hearing date has not been set. Manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

Outside the courtroom, Downs’ family cried, called others with the news and hugged one another, as well as the prosecutor and Portland police.

Vicki Legere, Downs’ sister, said she had thought over and over about the details of the case, including statements Weidul made to a detective and a Department of Health and Human Services caseworker that he had hit Downs 30 or more times.

“How could he not be accountable?” she said. “It’s not what a normal person would do.”

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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