Witness dies, but assault case to move forward | TheUnion.com

Witness dies, but assault case to move forward

The alleged victim in an battery and assault case that is set to go to trial next month was found dead of natural causes Tuesday morning.

But the prosecutor has opted not to drop the charges against his assailant, Thomas Leal.

Don Brown's roommate called Nevada City Police shortly after midnight Tuesday to report that he was dead, according to dispatch reports. An autopsy was performed Wednesday, and his death was ruled to be from natural causes, said Nevada County Deputy District Attorney Oliver Pong. Toxicology reports were pending.

Brown's death does not mean automatic dismissal of the case against his alleged attacker, Pong said Thursday.

"Because he personally testified during the preliminary hearing with full cross-examination by the defense, I'm able to preserve that testimony and use it at trial," Pong said.

Brown testified in Nevada County Superior Court March 7 during the preliminary hearing into the evidence against Leal, who has been charged with battery causing serious bodily injury with a special allegation of assault with a deadly weapon, as well as a count of assault with a deadly weapon causing serious bodily injury.

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Brown said he was at a Grass Valley motel Nov. 26, 2012, and was on the patio smoking marijuana when Leal "hopped" a privacy fence, hit him four times with a flashlight and stabbed him in the side. Brown said that he dropped cash and his pipe on the ground during the attack and that Leal took them before fleeing the scene.

Brown testified that he did not seek medical treatment at the time or make a police report. He said he eventually sought medical treatment Dec. 14 and was found to have several orbital fractures.

The motel manager and her son both testified that on the afternoon after the alleged attack, Brown told them he had been stabbed but had only a small scratch from the alleged knife wound and that he had no visible injuries to his face.

Leal's trial on those charges remains set for April 30; a pre-trial conference is set for April 19.

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email lkellar@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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