There were tears inside a Pierce County courtroom this morning and anger outside it after a 26-year-old Puyallup man was sentenced to a year in jail for throwing two punches that put another man in a coma last year.
Daman Heath Lehman pleaded guilty earlier this month to second-degree assault for hitting James Foster outside a Puyallup bar in April. Foster, 22, lapsed into a coma after falling and hitting his head on the concrete. He was hospitalized for days and still suffers linger problems from his injuries.
Police said a drunken Lehman punched Foster without provocation after the victim said something about Lehman’s or someone else’s car in the parking lot outside Cheers, a bar in the 4100 block of South Meridian.
Superior Court Judge Linda Lee choked up as she imposed the sentence, saying it was the toughest she’s grappled with in her nine years on the bench.
“It’s been hurtful for both sides, and I feel that as well,” Lee said.
The one-year sentence was a compromise worked out between deputy prosecutor Douglas Hill and defense attorney Bryan Hershman.
Lehman originally was charged with first-degree assault, but the attorneys decided the crime was more akin to second-degree assault. Lehman’s standard sentencing range was three to nine months in jail, but Hill recommended a stiffer sentence because Foster’s injuries were so severe.
Hill acknowledged the sentence “is not pretty, and it is not perfect.”
Foster’s mother, Lisa Foster, addressed Lee before she imposed sentence.
Foster, who cried throughout her testimony, said the incident scarred her son and her family.
“We will never forget the images of his face — swollen and black and blue — and the monitors and the catheter drilled into his skull to relieve the pressure on his brain,” she said.
Her son, she said, is not the same since the attack.
“James is angry. He’s anxious. He’s paranoid, and we don’t know if that is going to change,” Lisa Foster said.
Lehman’s attorney, Bryan Hershman, told Lee his client is devastated by what he’s done.
“My client wishes he could have that night back,” Hershman said. “He has accepted responsibility at all stages.”
A tearful Lehman then addressed the court as his wife cried in the gallery behind him.
“I did not mean this,” said Lehman, who has a young daughter. “I’m sorry, your honor, that’s all I can say. I’m sorry.”
Outside court, Lisa Foster and her husband, Darrell, said the sentence was too lenient.
“James wanted at least 18 months,” Darrell Foster said. “Doing county jail time? I don’t want his friends to be able to come and see him every weekend. I want your life to be miserable. You go spend time in Walla Walla.”
Lisa Foster found Lehman’s apology lacking.
“How is that enough?” she said. “His life might be impacted, but James is different. Sorry just doesn’t cut it.”