Sean Avery was on the witness stand defending himself Thursday when he said he wasn’t sure he was in the wrong during an encounter that ended with his electric scooter lodged in the minivan of a Manhattan family.
“I’m not a police officer,” said Mr. Avery, a former New York Rangers hockey player. “So I didn’t really know if there was a crime committed. It’s part of being on the streets of New York City.”
But just hours after Mr. Avery finished testifying, a judge clarified the matter: There had been a crime committed, and he was guilty.
So ended the highly unusual case of Mr. Avery, who was convicted of attempted criminal mischief, a low-level misdemeanor that rarely leads to a trial and could have been resolved with a fine of a little more than $1,000 three years ago.
But Mr. Avery, who after leaving the National Hockey League in 2012 moonlighted as a model and a Vogue Magazine intern and is now working as an actor, refused on principle to accept a plea deal proffered by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
“I was an idiot for saying no,” he said a week before his trial on a podcast that he hosts. But he added that it was a matter of personal values. “I don’t just roll over to the institution,” he said.
After representing himself in April during his last court appearance — which did not go well — Mr. Avery hired a lawyer, Jason Goldman, to represent him during the two-day trial this week. Mr. Goldman did his best to cast doubt on a story told by Jonathan Schulhof, 48, a Manhattan father and managing partner at Footprint Coalition Ventures, a sustainable investments firm.
Mr. Schulhof had been driving his family to lunch in his wife’s minivan on Feb. 23, 2019, when Mr. Avery, apparently irate at being cut off as Mr. Schulhof turned left onto East Eighth Street from Broadway, intentionally slammed into the side of the vehicle. The impact came right where Mr. Schulhof’s young daughter was sitting.
Mr. Goldman insisted that because Mr. Schulhof had not witnessed the attack with his own eyes — merely hearing it, feeling it shake the van and seeing Mr. Avery prying his scooter loose — that he was lying about having “observed” it.
“You observed it with your ears,” he said Wednesday.
Mr. Goldman and Mr. Avery presented an alternative narrative — that the ex-hockey player had lost control, accidentally ramming the vehicle.
The judge, Marisol Martinez-Alonso was unconvinced. She ordered Mr. Avery to pay a surcharge of $205 and not to contact Mr. Schulhof or his family for three years. Mr. Goldman said afterward that he and Mr. Avery were disappointed, but grateful for the sentence, and added, “Sean can now move on, without restraint, in his personal and professional endeavors.”
Mr. Avery had tried to turn the trial into a media event, using his podcast, “No Gruffs Given,” to call upon New York Rangers fans to pack the courtroom.
But on the podcast, he had accurately predicted that the Rangers would lose their recent conference finals series against the Tampa Bay Lightning and during the trial only two onlookers were identifiable as fans. One wore a Rangers hat, the other a jersey with Mr. Avery’s number 16.
Mr. Avery relied throughout Wednesday on the support of the fan with the jersey — who would not give his name but said he was a 36-year-old from upstate New York who drove down to support the man he called “a hell of a hockey player” — casting glances at him whenever there was a break in the action.
On the trial’s second day, when not a single identifiable fan showed up to see him testify, Mr. Avery chugged from a bottle of lemon-lime Gatorade as if he were in the midst of a hard-fought game. He taunted reporters and photographers, covering his face with a stack of evidence photos when one cameraman tried his luck, asking: “Did you get it?”
Mr. Avery seemed more at ease when he took the stand to answer questions from Mr. Goldman. He said that he had hit Mr. Schulhof’s minivan inadvertently as he tried to make an abrupt stop after being cut off. He admitted to losing his temper and insulting the family.
“I definitely made a comment to the driver about his wife doing his dirty work and getting her under control,” he said. “And then I think I made a comment about him being bald.”
But he said that he had done nothing wrong. “I’m a stickler for the rules,” said Mr. Avery, whose behavior in the N.H.L. led directly to a ban on players waving their hockey sticks right in front of goalies’ faces.
He was less forthcoming during cross-examination, during which he kept the Gatorade nearby on the witness stand. The prosecutor, Sarah Doelger of the Manhattan district attorney’s office, asked him how much he bench-pressed (he said he hadn’t bench-pressed for years), asked him to restate his testimony from minutes prior (he would not), and asked whether he had noticed the puncture that the scooter made on his victims’ car.
“I don’t believe so, no,” Mr. Avery said.
Upon hearing the verdict, Mr. Avery donned a pair of sunglasses and remained seated at the defense table for another half-hour while the order of protection was written out. He then rose, and strode out of the courtroom, talking only to Mr. Goldman, ignoring reporters’ questions and keeping a broad smile pasted on his face until he was out of sight.