Two men accused of beating a man to death early New Year's Day are heading to trial, facing more serious charges than before.
During a Tuesday hearing, a judge found enough evidence to bind Austin Smith and Donald Suttle over to trial on second degree murder charges. The pair were originally facing involuntary manslaughter in the death of 30-year-old Travis Peterson.
Prosecutors describe the fight that killed Peterson as vicious, brutal and violent.
"We have five men chasing down an unarmed person down the street who is acting in a defensive manner," Assistant Ingham County Prosecutor Bill Crino said.
The prosecution claims those men, including Smith and Suttle, attacked Peterson like a pack of wolves, kicking and punching him repeatedly as Suttle wielded a baton.
"That characterization of it being a pack of wolves came from an eyewitness in this case and that's the words he said to police immediately upon being interviewed the next morning," Crino added.
Prosecutors believe that testimony proves this was not just a bar fight, but a deliberate, intentional act. They asked the judge to increase charges against Smith and Suttle from involuntary manslaughter to second degree murder.
The defense had a different version of events. Attorney's for Smith and Suttle say the cause of Peterson's death is unclear. They point to his .24 blood-alcohol level and say he could have sustained the fatal injury by falling.
The judge sided with the prosecution and ruled there is probably cause to try Smith and Suttle for second degree murder.
"This isn't unexpected unfortunatley," Suttle's attorney, Patrick Crowley said. "But I do think the facts of the case as they continue to come out continue to get better and better with regard to my client."
Peterson's family meanwhile is confident a conviction will come.
"The family's having a hard time and of course," Crino said. "It's a very tragic loss for them. I think they're very pleased with what happened here today, the judge's decision."
Smith and Suttle are facing up to life in prison if convicted. They will be back in court June 27th.