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Man sentenced to 1 1/2 years for deadly Radford fight

Published On: Jul 25 2013 03:52:17 PM EDT
Erik Czajkowski



A plea deal has been reached in a 2011 fight in Radford that resulted in one man’s death.

As part of the plea agreement, Erik Czajkowski will serve a year-and-a-half in prison.

Prosecutors say Czajkowski got into a fight with Michael Duncan in August 2011 outside of Café 24 in Radford. Duncan was hit in the face, and then fell back and hit his head on the sidewalk.

Duncan was declared brain dead and later died. He was 39. Duncan punched an employee at Sharkey’s and was kicked out of the bar shortly before he got into the fight with Czajkowski. This was one of the factors that made the case difficult to prosecute, according to Radford Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Rehak.

"The Commonwealth firmly believes the assault of Michael Duncan was an unprovoked attack. The resulting death by all accounts was accidental and hence involuntary manslaughter,” Rehak wrote in a news release.

As part of the plea agreement, a felony murder charge was reduced to involuntary manslaughter, and an aggravated malicious wounding charge was dropped to unlawful wounding.

Here is the entire news release from the Radford Commonwealth’s Attorney:

On August 19, 2011 Radford City Police responded downtown just before midnight to an altercation with injuries. Authorities found Michael Allen Duncan, age 39, unresponsive and suffering severe head trauma. Police determined Duncan was struck in the face outside the bar Cafe 24, fell backwards hitting his head on the sidewalk. He was taken to the hospital and never regained consciousness. Declared brain dead, Duncan was removed from life support just before midnight August 22, 2011.

After an investigation, Erik Stevens Czajkowski, age 26 (5/14/87), was charged with aggravated malicious wounding. Defendant was arrested shortly thereafter and released upon posting a $75,000 bond. He would later have another charge added, second degree felony homicide, by way of direct indictment. Bond was increased to $100,000 and posted by defendant once again.

At trial the Commonwealth planned to call sixteen witnesses including the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy. Unfortunately there were few if any eyewitnesses to the entire exchange between Duncan and Czajkowski. A detective spoke to defendant very briefly over the telephone who told police he punched Duncan after he was hit in the eye and assaulted first. Radford police tracked down a Cafe 24 credit card receipt for August 19, 2011 showing six alcoholic beverages were purchased by defendant.

Several facts made the Commonwealth's case challenging. For example:

1. defendant had no prior criminal convictions
2. victim was intoxicated at Sharkey's minutes earlier
3. victim punched an employee at Sharkey's minutes earlier
4. victim was forcible removed from Sharkey's minutes earlier
5. victim / deceased had a .24 % BAC

Some facts were in dispute, but none greater than defendant's assertion Michael Duncan struck the first blow. If believed by the trier of fact, Virginia's law on self-defense may have resulted in acquittal. However, no Commonwealth's witness saw Duncan ever strike the defendant.

In consideration of facts legal issues and the uncertainties of trial, the Commonwealth collaborated with the victim's family and carefully negotiated a plea agreement in accord with their wishes.

The felony murder charge was reduced to involuntary manslaughter and the aggravated malicious wounding was amended to unlawful wounding. In exchange for a no contest plea charges were resolved as follows:

• involuntary manslaughter (F) 10 years 9 years suspended $0 fine
• unlawful wounding (F) 5 years 4 ½ years suspended $0 fine

Sentences run consecutively for a fifteen (15) year total. Defendant gets credit for time served and active probation for five (5) years upon release. Suspended sentences may be revoked pursuant to Virginia Code § 19.2-306 for fifteen (15) years. Restitution for funeral expenses in the amount of $11,902.92 was paid to the victim's family before the plea as part of our agreement.

"The Commonwealth firmly believes the assault of Michael Duncan was an unprovoked attack. The resulting death by all accounts was accidental and hence involuntary manslaughter. Securing convictions, avoid appeals and sparing the victim's family the pain and anxiety of trial were also factors taken in to account. This tragedy highlights hazards of drinking alcohol normally overlooked. Excessive alcohol consumption tends to foster bravado, aggressiveness and violence."