Follansbee man found guilty in assault trial


Staff writer

FOLLANSBEE – A Brooke County jury on Wednesday found a Follansbee man guilty of malicious assault and domestic battery in connection with a June 8, 2012, incident involving a woman he was dating.

Michael L. Pustovarh, 42, of Follansbee, faces two to 10 years in jail for the malicious assault charge and one to five years in jail for the domestic battery charge following the jury’s verdict.

His sentence will be determined by 1st Judicial Circuit Court Judge Ronald Wilson, who presided over the trial, at a hearing to be held at 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 23.

The verdict from the jury of eight men and four women came following two and a half hours of deliberation and testimony from Pustovarh; his girlfriend at the time of the incident; Brooke County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Hanna, who investigated the incident; and the Brooke County dispatcher who answered the woman’s 911 call.

Closing arguments presented by Brooke County Prosecutor Joseph Barki III and Pete Kurelac, Pustovarh’s attorney, reflected the accounts of the incident given by Pustovarh and his former girlfriend.

Kurelac suggested both had been drinking at a cookout at her home and the alcohol caused a minor argument “to be blown out of proportion.”

Kurelac said Pustovarh, mistakenly believing the woman had received a phone call from another man, punctured her swimming pool with a pocket knife and kicked a chair into a bonfire, leading her to push him to the ground and strike him.

Pustovarh testified she punched him around the neck, face and chest and he struck back and bit her when she put her arm across his face.

Kurelac said his client struck back, not maliciously, but to defend himself as he lay, with an injured ankle, under the woman.

Barki said injuries sustained by the victim, including a swollen face, bruises around her eye, jaw and back, support her claim that following her initial assault, Pustovarh pulled her to the ground and struck her repeatedly as he held her in a chokehold.

The prosecutor presented photos of the injuries to the jury.

Matthew Leavitt of Follansbee, Pustovarh’s cousin, testified Pustovarh arrived at his home that night with a swollen and purple ankle and scratch marks on his neck. But no photos were presented to support that.

Barki said Hanna found no bruises on Pustovarh when he came to his home the following day to arrest him and found him in his underwear.

Barki noted Pustovarh testified that following the initial altercation, he overturned a picnic table and planters, things Barki said Pustovarh wouldn’t have done if he feared her.

During a break in the trial Wilson accepted a plea agreement entered by Bruce Reinhardt, 21, of Steubenville.

Reinhardt pleaded guilty to conspiracy in connection with a Jan. 12 incident in which he and Stephanie Johnson, 28, of Follansbee, allegedly used a credit card they stole from a woman who gave them a ride.

Reinhardt was sentenced to one to five years in jail and ordered to pay about $161 in restitution to the victim.

Assistant Brooke County Prosecutor David F. Cross said the case against Johnson is pending in circuit court.