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Airman found guilty of aggravated assault in brass knuckles fight

An Air Force sergeant was found guilty Wednesday of committing aggravated assault in a Grand Forks street fight.

David Exelbert, a 25-year-old flight engineer, was accused of using brass knuckles to hit and injure 43-year-old Allen Larsien about 1 a.m. Sept. 28, 2008, downtown near Sledsters bar on Fourth Street.

"What this case boils down to is being able to walk down the streets of Grand Forks County without getting cracked in the head with a pair of brass knuckles," prosecutor Jason McCarthy told jurors.

Exelbert, wearing his Air Force dress uniform, testified that after encountering Larsien and his two friends, he recalls putting on the brass knuckles, but not who threw the first punch. The 6-foot-3, 228-pound Exelbert said he remembers being held down on the ground and seeing flashes of light.

"I'm assuming I got beat up pretty bad," he said.

Exelbert's attorney Kerry Rosenquist said his "fairly intoxicated" client was kicked when he was down.

"We don't know who started the fight; we know who lost the fight -- it was Mr. Exelbert," Rosenquist told the jury.

Rosenquist emphasized that Exelbert felt threatened by the 220-pound Larsien and the two other men, justifying self-defense.

"(Exelbert) didn't have to wait to be assaulted before he had the right to defend himself," Rosenquist told the jury.

Rosenquist said Larsien, a former trainer of North Dakota boxer Virgil Hill, wanted to fight.

McCarthy said Exelbert struck Larsien "for no reason" and caused him to bleed profusely from his forehead and hairline, leaving lasting scars.

"The defendant did swing first and struck Mr. Larsien in the forehead with the brass knuckles. That testimony, ladies and gentleman of the jury, is undisputed," McCarthy said, referring to statements made in court Wednesday by Larsien and one of his friends.

Rosenquist said Exelbert and his buddies bought the brass knuckles as a joke after some of his friends were beat up in Washington state.

Referring to the aggravated assault charge, Rosenquist said: "It's totally out of character for this young man to have done anything like that."

The charge is a Class C felony that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Exelbert's sentencing is set for July 8.

It was not immediately known if Exelbert's felony conviction in civilian court would lead to military discipline. That's an issue base commanders would have to discuss with legal advisers, Grand Forks Air Force Base spokeswoman Capt. Randi Norton said.