EVERETT — A Lynden man accused of beating his father’s friend to death in downtown Everett did not expect the man to die, his attorney said Wednesday in court.
The trial for Kyle Wheeler, 43, began last week. A Snohomish County Superior Court jury will decide if Wheeler is guilty of first-degree manslaughter for the 2018 killing of Charles Hatem, 52. According to state law, a person is guilty of manslaughter in the first degree if he or she “recklessly causes the death of another person.”
Defense attorney Gabriel Rothstein called Hatem’s death a “shocking tragedy” in his opening statement to the jury.
“At the end of the day, it’s just two very drunk men getting into a fist fight,” Rothstein said. “It’s not a crime to win a fist fight. It’s not the crime of manslaughter to win a fist fight — a fist fight started by Charlie Hatem when he swung at Kyle first. … Nobody wanted Charlie to die. Nobody thought it was even a remote possibility.”
Hatem, of Everett, was staying with Wheeler’s father when he died.
On Sept. 8, 2018, the defendant was visiting his father in Everett, according to charging papers. That evening, Wheeler, his then-girlfriend and his father headed downtown to Sidekicks Grill and Lounge to watch a Washington State Cougars football game.
The defendant’s father was living in a small studio apartment in the Commerce Building at 1803 Hewitt Ave., just down the street.
While the trio was drinking in the bar, they ran into a woman who used to date Hatem and was the mother of his children. The defendant’s father suggested the woman go up to his apartment to visit Hatem at half-time, roughly around 9:30 p.m.
The defendant offered to walk the woman to the apartment complex, because he had the swipe key needed to enter. She agreed.
Wheeler got angry on the way to the apartment, the woman reported to police. He reportedly told the woman he was going to tell Hatem to get out of the apartment, and that the man was taking advantage of his father by not paying rent.
When they arrived at the fifth-floor apartment, Wheeler’s anger continued, according to the charges. He reportedly yelled at Hatem, called him a “piece of (expletive)” and threatened to throw him out the window.
The woman’s attempts to de-escalate the conflict were futile, so she went back to the bar to get help. She returned with Wheeler’s father and girlfriend. They ran into Wheeler, who was leaving the building. Wheeler reportedly told them he had “held Hatem down on the bed by his neck until he calmed down.”
The next morning, a neighbor called police after finding Hatem’s body wrapped in a blanket in the hallway outside of the apartment.
Police knocked on the door. No one answered. They used a maintenance worker’s pass key to enter. Inside were Wheeler, his father and his girlfriend. Wheeler was asleep on the floor, police wrote.
The defendant had blood stains on his shirt and pants, and an injury to his right hand. He reportedly told police he’d hit Hatem, but that “he was fine.” He’d dragged him into the hallway by his ankle and left him there — to sleep, he said. Police told him Hatem was dead. Wheeler “dropped to his knees and started crying,” according to the charges.
Officers believed Wheeler and Hatem had been drinking heavily the night of the fight.
The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office estimated Hatem’s blood-alcohol content at the time of death to be 0.235. An autopsy showed Hatem died of head trauma. A broken bone in his throat suggested he’d been choked, too.
In court Wednesday, deputy prosecutor Corinne Klein said the state’s evidence will prove that Wheeler’s reckless actions caused the death of Hatem, even if he did not intend for him to die.
“Kyle knew of a substantial risk that Charlie could die as a result of his assault,” Klein said. “He disregarded that risk. Those factors satisfy beyond a reasonable doubt the required elements of the charge of first-degree manslaughter.”
Hatem was the father of two children.
He was a star pitcher on the Central Washington University Wildcats baseball team in the 1980s. His name appears on 13 single-season top 10 lists from a sports history report published by the university in the year 2000.
In the season of ‘88, he recorded 83 strikeouts and pitched eight winning games. He also hit nine home runs that season.
His loss and the trial of his accused killer have been hard on his loved ones, said his step-sister, Denise Novosel.
“There’s a whole side to Charlie that the public doesn’t know,” Novosel said. “He was a super likeable guy with a lot of potential. He’d found himself in a bad spot personally with the accused and his family.”
Novosel, who lives in Portland, had hoped to attend the trial. But it kept getting postponed, she said, and she kept having to cancel travel plans.
“For all of us — everybody that was impacted by this — the constant delays in the trial have been really hard,” Novosel said. “Every time we thought we would get closure, there was another delay. It was very traumatic. I want people to know how devastating it is for families to be in this state of limbo.”
Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; email@example.com; Twitter: @reporterellen
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