BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — All Patrick Payne was trying to do was calm everyone down after a night of arguing appeared to be escalating toward violence.
For his trouble, Payne, now 27, still bears a scar across his forehead, where the 1.75-liter “handle” bottle of Southern Comfort, still half-full of booze, came crashing down onto it in the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 2010.
Yesterday, Matthew Rosa, 24, admitted in court that he was the man responsible for that blow to Payne’s head.
As Rosa was about to be led away to begin serving six months in jail, he turned toward Payne.
“I just want to tell you guys I’m sorry for what I did,” Rosa told Payne and his family, seated in the Salem District Court gallery for what had been originally scheduled as a trial.
“Thank you,” Payne said.
Rosa was already on probation in another assault case — coincidentally in the same Bridge Street area where the assault on Payne occurred — and a witness intimidation and assault case in Peabody when he showed up at the home of his girlfriend’s sister for an after-hours gathering.
At some point, Rosa began making fun of a shirt worn by another guest, Derek Fields, and the two men got into a heated argument, prosecutor Heidi Sylvanowicz told a judge.
Rosa was asked to leave, and he did.
Shortly after that, another guest noticed that his keys were missing. Several of the guests found Rosa outside and asked him if he had taken them.
Things got heated again, Sylvanowicz told Judge Robert Brennan. Rosa got into his car, and then got back out, toting the bottle and heading toward Fields.
Payne got in between the two men, hoping to defuse the situation, Sylvanowicz told the judge.
But it was too late. Rosa swung the half-full bottle, striking Payne. Payne immediately fell to the ground, bleeding from his head, the prosecutor said. Rosa ran to his car and sped away.
“I was completely nice to this kid,” Payne told the judge. “He hit me for absolutely no reason whatsoever.”
They had never even met before that night, he said.
Rosa’s lawyer, Mark Barry, acknowledged that his client had been involved in a series of violent incidents, which, he told the judge, were fueled by alcohol.
Rosa, who lives in Peabody, has since stopped drinking and is preparing to become a father, Barry said. Rosa has been working full time making doughnuts at Rantoul Distributors, which supplies local Dunkin’ Donuts shops, and part time cutting hair.
Barry urged Brennan to impose a suspended sentence and probation in the case, even offering to have Rosa take part in anger management.
Sylvanowicz, meanwhile, wanted the maximum sentence available in district court, 21/2 years behind bars for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury, all of it to be served.
She pointed to Rosa’s prior jail stints and the similarity of all of the incidents.
“Yes there’s been a period of time” in which Rosa has stayed out of trouble, “but that doesn’t change the seriousness of what happened. The victim still has a scar on his forehead.”
“I’m trying to balance it out,” said Brennan, who ultimately imposed a 21/2-year sentence, but ordered that Rosa serve six months, with the rest suspended for two years.
He will be subject to probation conditions during that two years, including random drug and alcohol tests and an order that he have no contact with Payne or any other members of his family.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.