A Lynchburg man on trial Thursday for punching his sister in the face was found guilty of felonious assault after he took the witness stand claiming that he was the “prince of England” — a statement that drew objections from the prosecution and a reprimand from Judge Rocky Coss.
When Dennis Lechner, 41, was called as the sole defense witness in his own trial in Highland County Common Pleas Court, the defendant was asked to state his name, and he replied, “My true name is Cain. I’m prince of England.”
Prosecuting Attorney Anneka Collins objected, and Coss sent the jury to the back room before chiding the defendant for apparently attempting to derail the trial.
“I don’t know what you’re trying to pull,” Coss said, ordering Lechner to tell the truth. According to court records, Lechner’s mental status was evaluated earlier this year as part of the case and he was found competent to stand trial in October.
“There are rules and you must follow those rules,” Coss told the defendant. “We’re not on TV.”
Later, when Koogler asked the defendant to identify his mother, who was involved in the case, Lechner said, “My mother’s name is Eve.”
Twenty eight minutes was all it took for the jury to return its verdict, and Lechner was expressionless as it was handed down. He was taken into custody in the courtroom and will be held until his sentencing hearing next month.
Lechner was charged with felonious assault, a first-degree felony, for reportedly punching his sister in the face so hard that it fractured her eye socket, broke her nose and knocked three teeth loose, causing her severe pain for several weeks and recurring migraines. The incident reportedly took place on Aug. 21, 2017 at a trailer on Panhandle Road in the Lynchburg area.
The victim, Lisa Garcia, has used a wheelchair since 2010 due to a back injury she sustained while in the U.S. Navy.
Garcia testified that, following a dispute between family members over prescription drugs, she told her mother that she did not want Lechner in their home anymore, at which point Lechner punched her in the face and all parties fled the scene except Garcia and her 14-year-old daughter.
“I called 911 with blood gushing out of my head,” Garcia said.
After being rushed to Highland District Hospital, Garcia was taken to Miami Valley Hospital for surgery due to her maxillofacial fractures and other injuries, according to Melanie Nuse, a physician’s assistant at Miami Valley Emergency Specialists.
Nuse said Garcia’s left eye was so swollen it took several people to “pry it open,” to examine her eyeball, adding that the injuries Garcia sustained were consistent with an assault.
Deputy J.D. Adams of the Highland County Sheriff’s Office, who responded to the scene, testified that Garcia’s injuries were “grotesque” and that he was concerned she wouldn’t be able to breathe due to her facial swelling. Adams said no one else was at the house when he arrived.
Lechner testified that Garcia had pulled a gun on him, and that when he quickly moved his arm to block the gun, the pistol hit her in the face.
Garcia said while she has a concealed carry license and owns two pistols, both firearms were secured in a lock box in her bedroom at the time of the incident.
Garcia’s daughter, whose testimony lined up with Garcia’s, said her mother was not carrying a gun when the incident occurred.
In closing statements, Collins said Lechner’s self-defense argument “makes no common sense.”
“The story was made up,” Collins said, adding that the jury was allowed to consider Lechner’s flight from the scene as a sign of guilt. “He fled that day because he was guilty.”
In Koogler’s closing statement, the defense attorney said that “two sides have been presented” in the narrative, and that it was up to the jury to decide who to believe.
After the jury returned its guilty verdict, Coss ordered a presentence investigation in the case since Lechner reportedly has a previous assault conviction on his record and there may be more factors important to consider in sentencing.
He will be sentenced Jan. 17.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.