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Victim's surprise appearance disrupts Ramsey County trial

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The Pioneer Press reports that courtroom proceedings were upended Friday after the victim in a near-fatal beating last summer appeared at the trial of a man accused of assaulting him.

The victim is 27-year-old Ray Widstrand. The suspect is 17-year-old Cindarion D. Butler. Butler is accused of participating in the Aug. 4 attack that resulted in severe brain and other injuries to Widstrand.

Widstrand joined family members during a morning break when the jury was not in the courtroom.

Defense attorney Christopher Zipko argued that, as a potential witness, Widstrand is required to stay out of the courtroom. The defense is concerned that because Widstrand uses a cane to walk and has dramatic scars on his head, his appearance might be "inflammatory" to jurors.

The prosecution said it was not expecting him, and had no plans to call him as a witness.

Ramsey County prosecutor David Miller said if the defense was planning to call him to keep him out of court, it would be "poor practice and may be unethical."

Ramsey County District Judge Joanne Smith agreed.

"I'm shocked, to tell you the truth, that this is being used as a tactic to exclude him," she said. "It's highly improper."

Widstrand left the courtroom and did not return while lawyers and the judge discussed whether his appearance interfered with Butler's right to a fair trial. More arguments are expected Monday.

Widstrand told KSTP he went to the trial to support his family.

"I didn't go to be a distraction or a disruption to the proceedings," Widstrand said.

"It was real upsetting to me, to his dad that he was not allowed in there," his mother, Linda Widstrand, said.

Police reports say Widstrand was passing by a street fight involving alleged gang members when some turned to attack him. A juvenile has pleaded guilty in the assault and a Ramsey County jury found one man not guilty in November. Two other suspects have not yet been tried.

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