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Brutal attack on fiancee leads to probation

A White City man with a history of violence was given probation following a drunken attack on his fiancee that left her with a concussion and numerous other injuries.

John Martin Phelan, 64, faces 40 months in prison if he drinks again after pleading no-contest to felony assault Friday in Jackson County Circuit Court for an attack that forced the woman to flee for her life out a bedroom window.  

The victim suffered multiple injuries and "she still has ... dental issues," according to Deputy District Attorney Lucy Durst, who prosecuted the case.

Speaking in court with a slight tooth whistle, the victim said she thanks God their bedroom window was open the evening of Aug. 25, giving her a way to escape. The evening of the unprovoked attack, Phelan told her he'd kill her, phrasing it as a statement of fact.

"I am going to kill you," she recounted Phelan telling her. "Not that I want to kill you, not that I might kill you ... ."

She told Circuit Court Judge Tim Barnack she is still traumatized by the shushing sound he made as he attempted to strangle her.

"Shh, shh, it'll only take a second," she recalled.

She ultimately broke free by biting Phelan on the arm, kicking him off and jumping out the closet window. She then sought help from a neighbor, according to court documents.

The victim had spent close to four years with Phelan, she told the court. They met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and a commitment to sobriety had been a cornerstone of their relationship. 

Phelan had never physically hurt her before the attack, she said, though she remembers a tumultuous outburst in Phelan's native Ireland.

Concerns about his drinking led her to cancel a planned Mexican Riviera honeymoon cruise out of concern he would drink. She now believes his violent tendencies would have led to her being thrown overboard.

"This is really painful because I was fully invested, but I'm glad I'm not bobbing in the sea," she said.

Phelan was sentenced to five years of probation after pleading no-contest to a single felony count of second-degree assault. A no-contest plea is not an admission of guilt, but it carries the same consequences in court as a guilty plea. Phelan said he was extremely intoxicated that night and blamed some of his behavior on his Irish heritage.

 "I'm sorry if I caused any pain to her at all," Phelan said. "That's not the kind of person I am."

Phelan will serve 40 months in prison if he violates terms of his probation, which includes random drug and alcohol testing, and treatment as ordered by a probation officer, along with no contact with the victim. Barnack called the plea agreement "a great deal."

As part of the plea agreement, a felony attempted murder charge and misdemeanor assault and strangulation charges were dropped. Assault in the second degree typically carries a mandatory-minimum 70-month sentence, but Phelan's crime was negotiated out of Measure 11 sentencing because the victim wasn't injured with a deadly weapon.

At his lawyer's request, Phelan will be released from the Jackson County Jail Monday, allowing his brother in Sacramento time to get Phelan winter clothes and pick him up. Phelan was arrested wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

Court records show that Phelan has no prior felony convictions, but he had a violent misdemeanor conviction from a January 2016 incident in which Phelan pulled into the White City Dairy Queen parking lot and punched an unsuspecting man who didn't know Phelan. He ultimately pleaded no-contest to second-degree disorderly conduct and driving while suspended in the case.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

John Martin Phelan