Move to delay sentencing in Molly’s Pub case leaves defense’s motives up for debate

It’s been almost a year since Jeffrey Basil pushed William Sager down a flight of stairs in Molly’s Pub, causing Sager to suffer a traumatic brain injury and die several months later.

In January, it seemed as though the tragic saga was finally reaching its conclusion when Basil was convicted of second-degree murder.

But now, Basil’s defense is arguing he should have been convicted of manslaughter instead. Defense attorney Joel Daniels is filing a motion to set aside the murder conviction, in what can be seen as either a last-ditch attempt to delay sentencing or a legitimate argument on Basil’s behalf.

Although the sequence of events that occurred on May 11, the night of the altercation, has been much-discussed, its implications are still up for debate.

Basil, who was a manager at the University Heights bar, was witnessed drinking heavily, though the prosecution argued that Basil himself stated on the phone that night was not drunk that night. A witnesses noted that Basil was irritated by Sager, after he tried to shake the manager’s hand as he talked with two women at the bar. Approximately, 15 minutes later, Basil pushed Sager, a National Guardsman, down the stairs.

There’s no question that Basil’s actions resulted in Sager’s death.

What remains uncertain, at least according to Basil’s attorney, is the intentions behind the bar manager’s violent behavior.

That element of Basil’s actions is the most difficult to determine, but also crucial in distinguishing between second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.

Second-degree murder can be defined as an impulsive killing, committed without premeditation but which does involve intention to kill at the moment of the crime, or intention to cause serious bodily harm knowing that death may result.

Voluntary manslaughter, the crime which Basil’s attorney believes should be in question, does not involve as much moral blame – such a crime is considered to occur in the “heat of passion,” in which the perpetrator is strongly provoked.

It’s clear Basil acted impulsively, and his sobriety at the time of the crime has been called into question.

But it takes more than a few drinks to not realize the damage that could be inflicted by pushing someone down a flight of stairs. It’s arguable that Basil had to be aware, at the moment he chose to push Sager, of the damage he could inflict – an awareness that would call for a second-degree murder conviction.

On the other hand, there is a lack of clear motive regarding the intensity of Basil’s actions – mere annoyance doesn’t seem to constitute sufficient incentive to cause such serious harm. Irritation, combined with alcohol, could lead to impulsive violence, but it’s dubious that such emotions could make Basil want to inflict such intense damage on Sager.

The answer isn’t clear but there is room for debate.

The decision is now up to State Supreme Court Justice Penny Wolfgang, who will announce on April 7 whether Basil’s case should be retried or if the sentencing for second-degree murder should continue.

It’s also noteworthy that Basil’s attorney waited until the day of sentencing to file the motion. Though Daniels claims that he had to wait to receive the trial transcript, it seems unlikely that such a process took an entire month.

Whether caused by a legitimate delay or not, waiting until the day of sentencing makes Daniels appear more desperate and stretches the trial out even longer.

Individuals involved in the case who are fervently waiting for some form of resolution now must wait even longer – hopefully for a verdict that can serve as a rightful delivery of justice.