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Jury deliberates accused's fate in fatal Bar Italia dispute

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A deadly dispute outside a popular Winnipeg bar is now the focus of ongoing jury deliberations.

Nicholas Somers, 29, has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter for the July 2010 tragedy at Bar Italia on Corydon Avenue. A seven-woman, five-man jury began weighing the evidence Thursday afternoon following an eight-day trial.

Gary Rent, 33, a University of Manitoba graduate student, died after being punched in the head, falling to the ground, landing hard on the pavement and suffering a traumatic brain injury.

Most of the facts are not in dispute. But Crown and defence lawyers presented vastly different takes on the evidence during closing arguments Wednesday.

Somers claims he was acting in self-defence because Rent came to the bar looking for a fight and refused to relent. The victim’s brother-in-law, Darren Colomy, was also working at the bar and testified how Rent, a trained boxer, was angry about a personal family issue and repeatedly challenged him as the bar closed that night.

"Gary Rent was a powder keg, ready to explode," defence lawyer Saul Simmonds told jurors. "A stick of dynamite, primed with alcohol. Violent, aggressive, unpredictable, dangerous. He was a boxer looking for a fight. He was not going to be talked out of a fight, no matter who, no matter what."

Somers testified in his own defence, telling jurors Rent made him feel threatened and he was just trying to protect himself, Colomy and others at the bar. He denied the Crown’s suggestion that he "sucker-punched" the much smaller Rent.

"Mr. Somers is not being honest. You can’t rely on what he says," Crown attorney Chantal Boutin told jurors in her final statement. She said Rent posed little threat to anyone, largely due to his drunken state. An autopsy revealed he was at twice the legal alcohol limit.

"Mr. Rent did not see the blow coming," she said. Colomy -- whom the Crown described as a "mountain of a man who outweighed Rent by more than 100 pounds -- admitted he never felt as if his safety was at risk and thought he could have defused the situation on his own. He said Rent was "shadowboxing" with him but never actually laid a hand on him.

"He did not land a single solitary blow," said Boutin. "This night wasn’t about Mr. Somers. Not until he made it about him. He injected himself into the situation when he ought to have left."

Boutin suggested the force Somers used was "not proportional, nor was it necessary" to any perceived threat. She notes surveillance video showed Colomy easily shoving Rent to the ground in the moments before the deadly punch and told jurors other options would have included "carrying him away or restraining him."

"He was drunk, double the legal limit, belligerent as hell, a pain in the butt... but he wasn’t a threat to anyone," said Boutin.

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