Michigan Department of Corrections mugs of Christopher Hildreth (l) and Gary Ellis (r).
Chance Craft, owner of Northwoods Tattoo, where Hildreth used to work, and a fellow member of the group World Wide Animal Control.
As Christopher Hildreth and Gary Ellis prowled from one bar to another, it looked to some like the pair was desperate for a fight.
Shane Marquette was out that night, too, making his way from bar to bar, and though he said he was not looking for a fight, he found one.
He says he doesn’t recall exactly what led to his encounter with Hildreth and Ellis outside of the Loading Dock just past midnight on Sept. 22.
Marquette, 37, had been drinking and he said he does not recall saying anything to the two men. A witness told police Marquette said something like, “You better watch your shit,” as Hildreth and Ellis walked passed him into the parking lot.
That was enough, apparently, to invite a vicious beating.
Witnesses described a quick and brutal assault that followed, with Marquette soon down on the pavement, arms flailing above him, Hildreth and Ellis landing punch after punch to Marquette’s head before bystanders approached and chased them away.
Marquette says now he believes those bystanders came just in time -- one more blow, his doctors told him, and it would have been all over.
As Marquette lay bleeding on the pavement, teeth scattered and blood streaming from his head, a family friend happened to be among the first responders who arrived.
Roxanne Hessenaur of the TC Fire Department later told a detective from the TC Police Department that she knew Marquette but didn’t recognize him that night.
“She indicated that she has known Marquette for many years and did not recognize him due to his injuries,” Det. Kevin Gay wrote in the police report. “She also described Marquette’s forehead as being completely crushed and that his brain was essentially exposed to the skin of the forehead. She believed that one more kick or strike to the forehead may have resulted in Marquette’s death.”
DETERMINED TO FIND TROUBLE
Detectives would talk to numerous patrons and employees at the Loading Dock and other bars that evening to piece together the events that led to the asault.
The investigation would lead to the arrest and conviction of Hildreth and Ellis, both 27year-old TC residents, who in late December were sentenced to three to 10 years in prison for convictions of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder.
Hildreth and Ellis were suspects from the get-go. Witness after witness told police that the men had attracted attention earlier in the evening for their seeming determination to find trouble.
An officer who responded that evening talked to a bartender who told the officer he’d noticed Hildreth and Ellis at the pool table where they’d been throwing a pool ball back and forth and had damaged a light fixture hanging over the table with a pool cue. They were asked to leave.
Soon after, the bartender told the officer, he learned of the assault just outside of the bar and he looked outside just in time to see two men running away, the ones from the pool table.
The bartender also told police that the owner of Union Street Station had happened to have been in earlier that evening and warned him about the pair – he said they’d already been banned from Union Street and as long as they were around he could expect trouble.
Other patrons told police about aggressive behavior they witnessed.
One patron said he walked passed Hildreth and Ellis on his way to the restroom and one of them stepped toward him, stuck his chest out and raised his arms in what looked like a show of intimidation.
Another patron wrote in an email to detectives: “I was walking towards the restroom when a guy with several tattoos and piercings came out of the bathroom walking toward me. He kept walking straight as if he wanted to bump into me. We made eye contact so I know he saw me. I quickly moved out of the way so that we didn’t collide. I remember thinking, ‘This guy is an asshole.’” Police also interviewed a bouncer who witnessed the confrontation between the suspects and Marquette.
The bouncer told police that as Hildreth and Ellis left the bar, they passed Marquette, and Marquette said something “to the effect of ‘you need to watch your shit.’”
‘WAS OUT CELEBRATING’
Marquette is not a saint. He’s been in trouble with the law numerous times. And he’s gotten into too many fights to remember, he said. He said he’s been in at least five, but mostly when he was younger.
He said he doesn’t remember much about that night, but he said he was not out looking for a fight.
“I was out celebrating,” said Marquette, who up until that day worked as a carpenter. “We’d just picked up three contracts on houses.”
Months later Marquette is still recovering.
He no longer can work. He spent over a week in the hospital. His eyes are still dark and, though he had plastic surgery and scars are not immediately apparent, his face looks somehow haunted by the beating.
He agreed to be interviewed but he declined to be photographed.
Marquette believes he was attacked with brass knuckles. He said his doctor told him the injuries appeared to have been caused by something more than bare fists.
“Somebody that was not in as good of shape as me probably would have died from these injuries,” Marquette said, Marquette said he would like to thank the Victims Rights Fund for contributing $25,000 for his medical bill.
He estimates the total bill will come to around $200,000, and although Hildreth and Ellis are court-ordered to pay that when they get out, Marquette said the medical bills currently come to him.
“I don’t remember the assault. I remember bits and pieces. I was pretty intoxicated that night,” he said.
He said he didn’t know Hildreth and Ellis before that night, though he knew some of their friends. Hildreth is a member of World Wide Animal Control, a group of people who like the same kind of punk rock music, have tattoos and piercings, and dress in punk rock clothes. Marquette knew members of that group, he said, because his group of friends and that group of friends hung out at the same places, liked the same music, and were sometimes friendly.
He doesn’t believe the assault had anything to do with World Wide Animal Control, though in the wake of what happened, Marquette said his friends and members of that group have been at odds.
“I have no opinion of them whatsoever,” he said. “This wasn’t an act of that group. This was an act of two individuals and it had a terrible outcome.”
‘THROW THE DICE’
Chance Craft, owner of Northwoods Tattoo in TC, where Hildreth worked, said Hildreth and Ellis are not bad guys. He believes they were provoked into the fight.
Craft, a member of World Wide Animal Control, said it is not a gang and its members don’t go out looking for fights, though he said members typically don’t back away from them, either.
“It’s really just a group of people that are into the same kind of underground music scene,” Craft said.
It started in Seattle in 1996, he said, among fans of a psychobilly band called Los Gatos Locos. The punk rock music inspired concert-goers to misbehave in the mosh pit, and that’s where the name Worldwide Animal Control comes from.
“They were controlling the animals in the pit; it was kind of a joke in the beginning,” Craft said.
As for the assault convictions for Hildreth and Ellis, Craft said he does not believe justice was served.
Craft was not a witness to the assault, he was at home with his wife and kids, but he attended the trial, read police reports and spoke with Hildreth and Ellis.
“Basically, Gary and Chris were at the bar having a good time, doing their thing,” he said. “As they were leaving the bar, Shane Marquette said, ‘Hey, you better watch your back.’” Craft said after that, Hildreth called Marquette a derogatory name and Hildreth and Ellis continued to walk away and Marquette followed.
Witness reports differ about what led to the confrontation.
Craft agrees that if Marquette was down on the ground and defenseless, the fight should have ended, but he said fights can get out of control.
“When you’re in a street fight and your adrenaline is going and you’re nervous and scared . . .” Craft said. “When you start a fight, you throw the dice.”
He said Hildreth and Ellis are both small guys and they’ve gotten picked on a lot and they’ve learned to stand up for themselves.
“They didn’t intend to hurt this dude that bad, I guarantee you,” Craft said.
STARTED OVER NOTHING
Ultimately this is a case of something that started over nothing – a flippant comment uttered in passing – and ended with extremely serious consequences for everyone involved.
Alan Schneider, Grand Traverse County prosecuting attorney, who tried the case, said cases that happen inside or just outside of a bar are often difficult to try because witnesses can be unreliable.
This one turned out to be less complicated, Schneider said, because ultimately it didn’t really matter who said what or what started the fight or whether Marquette provoked Hildreth and Ellis.
What mattered was that when Marquette was on the ground, unconscious and defenseless, Hildreth and Ellis continued the assault.
“There was some dispute about whether Marquette was going over to confront Hildreth,” Schneider said.
When Marquette was down, he was obviously unconscious, and the defendants continued to viciously beat him in the head, Schneider said.
Hildreth is also not a stranger to bar fights. He was convicted of aggravated assault in Grand Traverse County for a 2008 assault after he broke a beer glass over a person’s head.
Schneider said one of the physicians who treated Marquette didn’t believe he was beaten with bare hands. He believed a weapon like brass knuckles had to have been used, but Schneider said he could find no other evidence of that and he didn’t want to speculate about that at trial.
Ultimately, that didn’t matter either, because Schneider was able to get assault with intent to cause great bodily harm convictions against both men, the most serious assault charge short of attempted murder.