File photo - Morris R. Keith appears in Lewis County Superior Court.

Court of Appeals Reverses Conviction in Sledgehammer Assault

By The Chronicle

The Washington state Court of Appeals reversed an assault conviction from Lewis County Superior Court this week after the prosecutors conceded an error by the trial court. 

Morris R. Keith Jr. was found guilty in January 2016 of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon for hitting a neighbor in the face with a sledgehammer 

He was also charged with first-degree burglary and harassment — threat to kill, but was acquitted by a jury on those charges. 

The assault was reported on May 31, 2015. 

Keith and the victim reportedly had an argument over loud music. Keith told police the victim hit him first with the hammer, and that he later grabbed it and swung it at the victim, hitting him. 

The victim was taken to Providence Centralia Hospital after the incident, where doctors told police he had the worst broken nose they’d ever seen, according to court documents. 

According to the appeals court’s decision, released on May 2, Keith asked the trial court to instruct the jury on his self-defense argument. 

However, the judge, who is not named in the appeal documents, was “reluctant” to instruct the jury on the self-defense argument because Keith had denied intentionally hitting the victim, according to the appeal. 

The judge ruled that Keith could not both claim his assault on the victim was self-defense and an accident, and did not instruct the jury on the self-defense claim. 

According to the appeals court’s ruling, the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office conceded that the judge should have given the jury instructions on the self-defense claim. 

Keith’s conviction was reversed and remanded for a new trial.