SALEM — A pair of men charged in a beating so severe that police initially believed they were investigating a homicide at Salem State University last fall were sentenced Wednesday to state prison terms of at least 2 1/2 years.
Bobby Addy Lopes, 22, of Everett and Adel Silva, 23, of Boston pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury during a hearing in Salem Superior Court.
The two were indicted in December, following what prosecutor Kelleen Forlizzi called "a lengthy and very difficult grand jury investigation" into the beating of 24-year-old Nekson Allah-Digui of Worcester in the early morning hours of Oct. 25 near Harrington Hall, after a dance on Salem State's campus.
The beating left Allah-Digui in a coma for several days with a traumatic brain injury. He also suffered bleeding on his brain and respiratory failure. He spent 10 days in intensive care and several weeks in a rehabilitation hospital. His kidney function is now impaired.
"This shouldn't have happened to him," said Forlizzi, who had urged a sentence of seven to nine years for each of the defendants.
Video of the incident and its aftermath spread on social media. Police used the video to help identify suspects in the attack, the motive for which remains unclear.
The incident and several other less serious fights led to some changes to the university's policies on dances, including wristbands and changes in the way ticketing is handled.
University spokeswoman Nicole Giambusso said the policy changes are still being evaluated.
"The practices were implemented and considered effective, however, there have been very few events given that our campus shifted to remote instruction in March for the remainder of the spring semester," Giambusso said in an email. "Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our current policy does not allow for any large gatherings on campus. Once the current guidelines and safety protocols allow for a resumption of large gatherings, then we plan to continue using these practices, periodically review them, and make changes as needed."
Captured on video
The three men, who were not students at the university, had attended an on-campus dance that evening, Forlizzi told Judge James Lang. The dance let out around 1 a.m. on Oct. 25.
Forlizzi said police found the victim unconscious on the pavement and, based on the severity of Allah-Digui's injuries, called a state police unit that investigates homicides.
Police obtained video both taken at the scene and posted on social media. Six witnesses identified Lopes as the person in the video seen picking Allah-Digui off the ground and slamming his head on the pavement, said Forlizzi.
"It appears (on the video) that the victim immediately goes unconscious," said Forlizzi.
A man who would eventually be identified as Silva is then seen on the video stomping on the unconscious Allah-Digui's neck.
Forlizzi said that when Allah-Digui regained consciousness at the hospital days later, he could say only his name and had no memory of the incident.
Witnesses told police that Lopes had expressed regret after the incident, telling friends he felt "sick" about what had happened.
It took additional time to identify Silva, who was seen on other campus surveillance video shaking his hand as if it hurt. Silva had also used his identification to sign into the dance, said the prosecutor.
Silva was, at the time, on a continuance without a finding probation in Dorchester Municipal Court for an unprovoked attack on a co-worker at a pizza shop where he worked.
Lawyers for the two men acknowledged the seriousness of the beating but said both promptly accepted responsibility for their behavior.
Lopes' attorney, Ronald Ranta, said his client has no prior record and had been gainfully employed and on his own for several years, including jobs with the Everett public schools and at Jet Blue, before his arrest. "This was very much an aberration for him," said Ranta.
Silva's attorney, Patrick Regan, said that since his client has been in custody, he's had no disciplinary issues.
Lopes and Silva had first appeared at a hearing to discuss a plea in the case back in February before Judge Thomas Drechsler, who offered the 2 1/2 year to three year prison term for Lopes and the 2 1/2 to four year term for Silva. The case was delayed for several months due to courts being closed.
Lang said he would honor the offer made by Drechsler, who has been assigned to another court session for the summer.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.