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Charge against soldier dropped

Matthew Nicholson of Oakdale is pictured in the hallway at the Stanislaus County Courthouse hugging his attorney Martha Carlton Magana on Sept. 21, 2007, in Modesto after felony battery charges were dropped against him.
Matthew Nicholson of Oakdale is pictured in the hallway at the Stanislaus County Courthouse hugging his attorney Martha Carlton Magana on Sept. 21, 2007, in Modesto after felony battery charges were dropped against him. Modesto Bee

Prosecutors on Friday morning dropped the felony assault charge against Matthew Nicholson, the 22-year-old Army soldier accused of beating a man he thought was assaulting two women.

After reviewing Nicholson's case, Chief Deputy District Attorney John Goold said going forward with the prosecution would benefit no one.

Nicholson was arrested earlier this month on charges he entered an Oakdale man's home and punched him several times. The beating sent Martin Lemas, 35, to the hospital.

Nicholson said he was only trying to help by responding to a plea from Lemas' son for someone to stop his dad from hurting his mom and grandma. Nicholson helped Lemas' wife and mother out of the house and then got into a confrontation with Lemas, which ended with Lemas on the ground and Nicholson in handcuffs.

The arrest also put Nicholson's military future in jeopardy.

Merely dropping the case may not be enough. Martha Carlton-Magaña said she will look into having Nicholson's record cleared of the matter. To do so, she'll have to show there was no factual basis for his arrest.

"He still has an arrest record which no one is supposed to pay attention to, but they do," Carlton-Magaña said. "We may not get (the request) granted even though it's clear that he didn't do anything legally wrong."

Nicholson said the attention he has received since being arrested Sept. 1 has been over- whelming and unexpected.

"I was taught to do the right thing and that's what I try to do always," a blushing Nicholson said as he left the courthouse. "No one thinks I should've been arrested."

Neither woman pressed charges

Lemas has maintained that he is the victim in the situation. He has conceded that he has a history of domestic violence but says he did nothing wrong that Saturday when Nicholson entered his home and beat him.

Neither woman Lemas allegedly assaulted wanted charges pressed against him and he wasn't arrested. His wife showed no sign of assault. His mother fled the house before police arrived, but spoke to police via phone.

Before Lemas' son approached Nicholson and his family, the two families never had met.

When people heard of Nicholson's situation, some scram- bled to put money together for his defense. Carlton-Magaña offered to represent him for free. Modesto-based construction company owner Bill Rommel and Angela and Mark Garcia of Garcia Family Bail Bonds put up $5,000 to bail him out of jail. Hours later, he was released on his own recognizance.

Nicholson said he felt lost until his story spread and people approached him with offers of financial support and legal guidance.

"I'd never been in trouble before, so I didn't know how (the legal system) works," he said.

His case continued to speed along Friday morning, when Judge Marie S. Silveira said she moved up Nicholson's court date to take care of his case before she went on vacation. His court date originally was scheduled for later this month.

Nicholson will report back to Fort Campbell in October, he said.

"I still have a job to do," the Iraq-bound soldier added.

Before then, he'd like to thank people for their support. He's putting some of the monetary gifts he has received toward a barbecue Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. at Dorada Park on Second Avenue and A Street in Oakdale.

"I'm putting the money back into the community," Nicholson said.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at 578-2382 or ehightower@modbee.com.

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