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story.lead_photo.caption Stephen Gustus - Photo by Pulaski County sheriff's office

For shoving a mailman to the ground and trying to get control of his mail truck while wearing only tennis shoes and a blanket, a North Little Rock man was convicted Wednesday of an assault charge punishable by up to 25 years in federal prison.

Jurors heard testimony Tuesday, then returned Wednesday to the Little Rock courtroom of U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson to convict Stephen Gustus in the Dec. 21, 2016, attack near his home at 1401 W. 18th St. in North Little Rock.

According to court documents and attorneys' closing arguments, letter carrier Julio Gonzalez got out of his postal truck about 9:15 a.m. and delivered mail to a house at 17th and Moss streets, then walked back to the truck and unlocked the door. Suddenly, he said, a man covered by a black-and-white comforter ran up to him and shoved him to the ground and began climbing into the truck.

Gonzalez grabbed one of the man's legs and tried to pull him out of the mail truck, and during the altercation, the comforter came loose and fell to the ground, revealing that the assailant was naked.

In his testimony Tuesday, Gonzalez described being knocked to the ground again by the assailant, who he said tried to turn on the truck's ignition but couldn't because the keys had been knocked to the ground.

The carrier testified that he got to his feet and punched the naked man three or four times before the man ran off. The mailman then called 911, and North Little Rock police found Gustus, who they said matched the suspect's description, a few blocks away.

Officers took Gustus back to the scene of the attack and Gonzalez identified him as his assailant, according to an affidavit written by Postal Inspector Mickey Schuetzle in support of a criminal complaint.

Court documents said Gustus appeared "impaired" and tested positive for amphetamine, methamphetamine and THC, a cannabinoid, although he claimed to have smoked a cigar that he thought contained PCP, a mind-altering drug also known as "angel dust."

At the request of prosecutors, the judge excluded testimony or arguments about intoxication.

Schuetzle said that after Gustus refused repeated verbal commands to get on the ground, an officer pepper-sprayed him and, after transporting him to a hospital, took him into custody.

Gonzalez also was treated and released for minor injuries and was prescribed pain medication for arm and lower back pain, according to the postal inspector and trial testimony. Jurors were shown pictures of Gonzalez' bruised left forearm after the attack.

Defense attorney Nicole Lybrand told jurors that Gonzalez was the aggressor and "embellished" the account, particularly in describing the pain he suffered.

"Why would any postman delivering mail become an aggressor?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela Jegley asked jurors. "Why would he fake injuries? Why would a nurse and doctor say they gave him pain medicine?"

Though Gustus was initially indicted Jan. 5 on a charge of assault with intent to rob government property and aggravated assault, a superseding indictment handed up April 3 accused him of just one charge: felony assault.

Jurors agreed that he "voluntarily and intentionally forcibly assaulted, impeded and interfered with an employee of the United States while the employee was engaged in ... official duties."

Before Gustus was indicted, U.S. Magistrate Judge Tricia Harris ordered him to undergo a psychiatric examination at a federal facility in Houston, Texas. The facility deemed him competent to stand trial.

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Metro on 04/19/2018

Print Headline: NLR man found guilty in attack on mailman; Naked assailant tried to seize truck

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