, Salem, MA

December 20, 2013

Man jailed for attacking veteran, 86


---- — BEVERLY — A Beverly man will spend six months in jail for what a prosecutor called a “brutal and unprovoked” attack on an 86-year-old World War II veteran in June.

After John Doyle, 57, of 5 Blaine Ave., Beverly, was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs yesterday, his victim — who had been so frightened of Doyle he did not want to be in the same room with him — said, “I don’t have to be afraid now.”

During a hearing yesterday in Salem District Court, Doyle pleaded guilty to charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon on a person over 60 and threats to commit a crime. The judge called the incident “just beyond the pale.”

“There has to be jail time,” Judge Michael Lauranzano told Doyle and his lawyer, Ronald Ranta, who were seeking probation. “Being drunk is no excuse for beating someone who is over 86 years old.”

Lauranzano imposed the sentence sought by prosecutor Alexander Grimes: 21/2 years in jail, with six months to be served and the balance suspended, and two years of probation.

Among the conditions Doyle will have to follow are anger management classes, random alcohol tests and an order to stay away from the Italian Community Center.

That’s where the victim and Doyle crossed paths on June 1, Grimes told the court.

The victim stopped to hold the door for Doyle, whom he’d known from around Beverly, where Doyle had worked as a bartender at several establishments over the years, said Grimes.

Doyle struck the older man, who tried to get away from him by running through the parking lot. But Doyle overtook the man, punched him with a closed fist and knocked him to the ground, where he beat and kicked him, Grimes said.

A witness, Kelly Atherton, and her husband came upon the scene and yelled at Doyle to stop.

She got the victim into her car and brought him back to the ICC. But as she helped the man, Doyle yelled, “I’m going to (expletive) kill you,” leading to the threats charge.

The victim sustained injuries to his face, and the impact of the blows broke his glasses, which Grimes showed the judge yesterday.

Atherton, who addressed the judge yesterday in a voice choked with emotion, said she wasn’t nearly as upset about what Doyle said to her as she was about what she saw happening to the elderly gentleman.

She said outside court that she believes had she and her husband not been in the area that night, the situation for the victim would have been far worse.

Police found Doyle at another bar, where, at first, he admitted to being involved in an altercation, then said he couldn’t recall, Grimes told the judge. Police described Doyle as extremely intoxicated.

Grimes also described how the victim, who served in the U.S. Army as a supply sergeant in France and Germany during World War II, then worked for decades in his family’s fruit business in Roxbury, is a widower who spends time at many establishments in Beverly, where he has lived for 30 years.

He is a well-liked guy, Grimes said, but “Mr. Doyle didn’t like him for some reason” and on prior occasions had directed a number of racial slurs at the victim, who is African-American.

While no one reported hearing such slurs during the June 1 incident, and Ranta took objection to the reference to racist remarks during yesterday’s hearing, the victim’s granddaughter believes that bigotry played a role in the attack.

“My grandfather is loved and respected everywhere he goes, and he (Doyle) hated that,” said Andrea Favors, the victim’s granddaughter.

“Mr. Doyle is an angry drunk, and for no apparent reason, he decided to strike this 86-year-old man,” said Grimes, who called the attack “brutal and unprovoked” and Doyle “a drunken bully.”

Ranta called the episode the “nadir” of his client’s life and said that since his arrest, he has been stripped of his livelihood as a hot dog vendor at Dane Street Beach and near the Beverly depot.

The Beverly City Council revoked Doyle’s vendor license in July as a result of the incident, though two councilors suggested that Doyle might consider reapplying for the license in the future.

That was punishment enough for Doyle, who since his arrest has been attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and is studying to obtain a commercial driver’s license, Ranta suggested. Ranta proposed three years of probation.

But Lauranzano disagreed. “If there was ever a case where the maximum should be imposed, this is it,” he said.

Ranta asked the judge to impose a stay of the sentence until after Christmas, but Grimes objected, noting that Doyle was aware of the possibility of jail time before yesterday’s hearing.

Lauranzano agreed to the delay but ordered that Doyle be monitored by either a GPS or electronic monitoring bracelet until he reports to start his sentence, then ordered that until that device is set up, Doyle will be held at Middleton Jail.

He was taken into custody from the courtroom.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.