A Helena man received a 15-year prison sentence Thursday for a July stabbing that permanently destroyed the left eye of his victim and put him in the hospital for three weeks.
Luis Enrique Zayas, 28, asked the court and the victim, Cole Waylon Whitegrass, 25, for forgiveness. But Whitegrass said the attack had changed his life forever.
“I don’t even know if I can obtain the jobs I used to have,” Whitegrass, wearing a black eye patch, said by video connection from the Glacier County Courthouse in Cut Bank. “I constantly shake and I don’t think that will ever go away.”
“He was hospitalized for three weeks and almost died,” County Attorney Leo Gallagher said.
Zayas was originally charged with attempted deliberate homicide, but in a plea agreement admitted to a lesser offense, aggravated assault. Gallagher said Zayas was offered that deal because of the likely difficulty in proving the intent to kill that is required for the attempted homicide conviction.
Gallagher and Cheryl Mustain, a probation and parole officer, recommended a sentence of 20 years in prison, with 10 suspended. But after hearing from Whitegrass and his father and aunt, Gallagher reminded District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock that he could sentence Zayas to anything up to the maximum of 20 years in prison.
Sherlock sentenced Zayas to 20 years with five suspended. With credit for time served (including extra credit for being a “trustee,” or worker in the jail), Zayas could be eligible for parole in less than 3 ½ years.
Sherlock also ordered $195,127 in restitution related to medical services at St. Peter’s Hospital and Benefis Health System.
Authorities were not clear on exactly how the fight ensued, and Zayas gave different stories to police.
Mustain testified that Zayas told police at one point he was “the main drug dealer in town,” and that he was on LSD at the time of the attack.
Zayas’ public defender, Randi Hood, dismissed those notions, saying Zayas told “crazy stories” to police while drunk during the investigation.
She said both Zayas and Whitegrass had very high levels of alcohol in their systems when tested after the incident. Zayas also showed evidence of marijuana use.
Whitegrass’ father, Tyrone Whitegrass, said by video son suffers from seizures and called for a tough sentence.
“Cole is not the same child that I raised,” he said.
Cole Whitegrass’ aunt, Cheryl Bear Medicine, said Cole had always been a smart child and had grown into a hard worker on construction jobs.
“Those things are not there anymore. Those things were taken away from him,” she said. “Who would put Cole on a roof now? Who would give him hand tools?”
Whitegrass had his own legal problems in Helena.
In May, he was charged with DUI and theft of a truck that police said he then crashed on Grizzly Gulch Road. He later admitted to misdemeanors and received a suspended sentence.
In October 2010, he admitted to a third offense of partner or family member assault, a felony, and was sentenced to five years with the Department of Corrections with three suspended and a rec-ommendation for alcohol treatment.
Zayas, born and raised in Bronx, N.Y., had a record of juvenile offenses followed by misdemeanors as an adult, but no previous violent felony convictions.