I-Team: Supporters say man's sentence for Raleigh bar fight wasn't fair

Mixed Martial Arts fighter in prison for 6-8 years after Raleigh bar fight left man with missing eye.
February 6, 2014 8:33:25 PM PST
Lorin Coakley's son Matt is in prison for his part in a Raleigh bar fight last July. She doesn't deny it happened, but told the ABC11 I-Team she can't believe the sentence - saying both men are responsible for their actions.

"He is hanging in there and I have to think he is scared," she said.

Coakley told us Matt, an amateur Mixed Martial Arts fighter, was sober the night he met up with friends at the Brickhouse Sports Pub to watch an Ultimate Fighting Championship match.  At some point in the evening, Matt and Denny Clark got into an argument over a TV.  Later, they bumped into each other again in the bathroom. But what happened next is up for debate.

"Denny came out of the stall and walked the length of the bathroom and came at Matt and I guess they exchanged some words and Denny put his hands on Matt's throat," said Coakley.

But Clark, who's 6 feet/160 pounds, told jurors the 5 foot- 5 inch/142 pound Coakley attacked him. Regardless of who started it, was Clark who suffered the serious injury - including blows to his face so severe that he would later lose his left eye.

Lorin Coakley admits that's a tragedy, but told ABC11 that Matt's martial arts training shouldn't deny him the right to defend himself. She says he acted in self-defense.

At trial, prosecutors showed the jury video of Matt's fights - driving home the point his hands could be deadly weapons. They also brought up past charges of DWI, assault, and disorderly conduct.

"I think he does have a somewhat of a short fuse. But I think the training he was doing in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and MMA was helping him with that," said his mother. "He did the only thing he could do in a split second."

But jurors convicted Coakley of malicious maiming and assault.

Denny Clark initially agreed to tell the I-Team his side on camera, but then changed his mind, fearing backlash from Coakley supporters.  

It's support that's growing with a "Free Matt Coakley" Facebook page and MMA blogs around the country discussing and defending Matt.

"It is comforting. I think that the love that they are showing for him, the support, it helps that I think it helps that they believe him that he was acting in self-defense," said Lorin.

We also reached out to the prosecutor in the case, who told us Coakley had a fair trial and the jury unanimously decided it was not self-defense.  He's serving his 6-to-8 years near the Carolina coast as he appeals his conviction.  

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