Indianapolis Colts defensive back Mustafah Muhammad, unable to refute testimony from his 6-year-old stepson, was convicted Wednesday of one count of domestic battery for beating his pregnant wife last fall.
Nichole Muhammad, who was five months pregnant, died 10 days later from excessive bleeding when she went into premature labor following a car accident. Her child was stillborn.
Mustafah Muhammad - then known as Steve Muhammad - was cleared earlier this year of any responsibility in his wife's death. Prosecutor Scott Newman instead charged Muhammad with three misdemeanor counts of battery.
Judge Evan Goodman, who conducted the bench trial in Superior Court, merged two of the counts into one of domestic battery and found Muhammad innocent of the third charge, that he struck his stepson as the boy tried to help his mother with a toy baseball bat.
"I think the real hero of this story is young Eric, that 6-year-old boy," Newman said. "What he did in coming to the rescue of his mother against a stepfather who is an NFL football player, coming at him with that little yellow plastic wiffle bat is something that is burned in my memory as an act of bravery. It was capped off today by his coming into court and facing that man for the first time and telling his story."
Eric, barely able to see over the top of the witness stand, told how he heard his mother screaming, then he saw Muhammad twist her arm and slam her against a window sill in the den of the family's apartment. It was then, he said, that he went to his toy chest to get the plastic bat.
"I wanted to stop daddy from hurting my mommy," Eric testified.
The boy said he hit his stepfather four times before Muhammad grabbed the bat from his hands and struck him with it. Goodman said Muhammad's reaction was inappropriate but ruled it did not constitute battery.
Goodman sentenced Muhammad to one year in jail, which he suspended, and to one year's probation. He also ordered Muhammad to undergo 12 weeks of domestic violence counseling and to perform 32 hours of community service.
"I'm just glad to have this behind me," Muhammad said outside the courtroom.
He said it was difficult to hear his stepson - who no longer lives with him -testify against him.
"That's the thing, to have your family on trial and pretty much on opposing sides," he said.
Deputies who responded to a 911 call from Muhammad's wife last Oct. 28 testified during the one-day trial that she was crying, bruised and in pain when they arrived at the couple's apartment. Muhammad admitted they had been arguing over money and he had tried to grb an envelope of money from his wife's hands, but he denied battering her or Eric.
He denied they ever were in the den and answered "No" to each of defense attorney James Voyles' questions about whether he at any time grabbed her, threw her against a wall or the floor or twisted her arm.
However, Newman said the testimony from Eric was impossible to ignore.
"I thought Eric's testimony was extremely compelling. This is a kid who clearly had a clear picture in his mind and maintained a clear picture in his mind of exactly everything that happened," Newman said. "He held his ground, he told his story, he did it in a way that was bright and articulate and powerful and strong for a child who is only 6 years old."
The only defense witness was Muhammad himself.
Also among eight prosecution witnesses were the two deputy sheriffs who responded to the 911 call, the pathologist who performed an autopsy on Nichole Muhammad's body and an attorney whom Mrs. Muhammad called four days after the beating. All of them testified about bruises they saw on the woman's body.
Newman also played a tape recording of the 911 call, in which she is heard screaming "My husband is beating up on me."
Muhammad signed with the Colts in February 1999 as a free agent after a season with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. He played in 11 games last season.
Colts president Bill Polian would not comment on Muhammad's conviction.
"The club's stance throughout this matter is that the only parties appropriate to comment are empowered by the legal or judicial system," Polian said. "The judicial system has reached its decision, and the club will have no comment. We will have whatever discussions the league deems appropriate. Should the league wish to comment, it will."
A telephone message was left seeking comment from NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.
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