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From left, Daniel Rosado, Jovino Rivera and Efrain Crespo, all of Haverhill, react to the verdict in Haverhill District Court. The three were linked to a stabbing that occurred in downtown Haverhill last summer.

HAVERHILL | The three defendants accused of beating and stabbing a once Olympic hopeful and his brother during a bloody brawl at River City Billiards in downtown Haverhill admitted their guilt and walked out of court free men yesterday.

Daniel Rosado, 25, Efrain Crespo, 30, and Jovino Rivera, 35, all of Haverhill, pleaded guilty to various assault and battery charges in exchange for two-year suspended sentences in which they will spend no additional time behind bars as long as they stay out of trouble until July 24, 2009.

The approximately 100 days each man has served in jail after they were arrested last year is all the time the men were sentenced to by Judge Patricia Dowling in Haverhill District Court. The men also must pay $90 in court costs and $21 per month for their supervised probation.

In addition to Michael and David Tang, about a dozen other people were injured in the Aug. 23, 2006, melee that erupted after a party to celebrate the appearance of local boxer Jeff "Hell Raza" Fraza on ESPN's "The Contender" reality TV show.

Police investigated whether Fraza had intimidated a witness or otherwise helped the defendants, but never charged him with a crime. Officers responding to the bar brawl encountered Fraza leading two of the defendants out a back door. Fraza also warned bar owner Matthew Michitson not to talk to police about what he saw, police said.

The judge approved the plea agreement at the recommendation of the Essex County district attorney's office and the Tang family.

"The Tang family members have been in three times for face-to-face meetings, and they just want this over," Assistant District Attorney John DePaulo told the judge. "The victims are in agreement with the sentence. This is what they want."

DePaulo also said police had trouble getting witnesses to cooperate with their investigation.

"There were about 20 witnesses, but it's unclear who did what with what weapon," DePaulo told the judge.

Neither Michael Tang nor his mother, Kim, returned messages left on their cellular telephones yesterday.

Michael Tang, 38, a one-time Olympic tae kwon do hopeful, was stabbed through his heart. He was flown to a Boston hospital for open-heart surgery and barely survived. David Tang, 33, was stabbed and beaten with broken beer bottles. A third victim, Michael Arahovites, was struck in the head and face with beer bottles.

The brawl started when Arahovites, who sometimes worked as a bouncer at the nightclub, got into an argument with Crespo that escalated into a fistfight, police said.

Michael Tang was stabbed while trying to reach his brother, who was on the floor being beaten, police said.

The judge approved the no jail sentences after a private sidebar meeting in the courtroom with DePaulo and attorneys for the three defendants. Dowling also silently read a victim-impact statement that DePaulo said the Tang family wished to keep secret. The court would not release the statement.

"Since this is a hard case for the district attorney to prosecute and he's doing the wishes of the victims, I'll go along with it," the judge said.

Crespo said the lack of jail time proves he and his friends were wrongly accused.

"Now everyone knows we're not the stabbers," he said before leaving the courthouse. "We suffered in jail for 100 days for something we didn't do. But now the truth is out."

Steven O'Connell, spokesman for Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, declined to comment further except to say prosecutors have no evidence that the Tangs or anyone else in the case was warned not to testify or otherwise threatened.

Last September, the district attorney's office tried to move the case to Superior Court in an effort to seek longer prison sentences against the defendants.

But last month Haverhill Detective Dana Burrill said prosecutors were unable to secure indictments from the grand jury, and that the case was being sent back to District Court. Burrill said the Tang brothers and River City Billiards owner Michitson had changed their witness statements about what they said they saw during the fight.

Haverhill police Chief Alan DeNaro, who appeared in the courtroom briefly to speak to DePaulo prior to the start of court yesterday morning, did not return calls for comment. Mayor James Fiorentini declined to comment on the resolution of the case that precipitated several community meetings last summer about the safety of downtown Haverhill.

River City Billiards, a one-time popular restaurant and nightclub on Washington Street, recently closed.



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