This story was published at 1:22 p.m. on July 5 and corrected at 8:30 a.m. on July 6. The original story identified the presiding Judge as John Milton Younge. Younge was the supervising judge in the case. The presiding judge was Kenneth Powell. The Aging Rebel apologizes for the error.
The seven-day trial in a civil case titled Brenda L. Bollinger, Administratrix of the Estate of Tonya M. Focht, deceased versus Iron Order Motorcycle Club et al. ended Tuesday afternoon in Philadelphia.
On the face of it, the Iron Order has won another homicide. The “law abiding motorcycle club” has previously won homicides in Meridian, Mississippi; Jacksonville Beach, Florida; and Denver, Colorado.
Tonya Marie Focht was a 35-year-old college student and mother of two who died after she was thrown under a moving car in the parking lot of a restaurant called the Bar-B-Q Pit in Lower Heidelberg Township, Pennsylvania on June 19, 2015. She suffered a gruesome and fatal injury as she tried to assist her boyfriend, Mark Groff. Groff was fighting with two Iron Order members named Wayne “Mo” Ritchie and Timothy “Munch” Martin. Groff has always maintained he was attacked. Martin, an Iron Order sergeant at arms and a convicted child molester, actually pushed Focht under the car.
Shortly after her death, Groff, a former member of the Leathernecks Motorcycle Club, wrote on his Facebook page that Focht “lost her life…because she was attacked by members of the iron order mc cop club.” He went on to say, “I held Tonya Marie lying in their (the Bar-B-Q Pit’s) parking lot trying to save her.”
Ritchie, Martin and Groff were all charged with disorderly conduct. Groff was also charged with possession of weighted gloves.
On Tuesday, the jury awarded Focht’s estate $9.7 million but before the jury could deliberate on the proportionate liability of the various defendants, Judge Kenneth Powell, dismissed the case against the Iron Order. The judge described the confrontation between Groff and the Iron Order members as “just a bar fight that went wrong and the National Chapter of the IOMC had nothing to do with it.”
Martin, who does not appear to be a millionaire, will probably be held responsible for most of the damages.
Slade H. McLaughlin, the Philadelphia lawyer who represents Focht’s estate, said he intends to appeal Powell’s ruling. McLaughlin thinks Martin and the other Iron Order members at the Bar-B-Q Pit that night behaved in a way that was consistent with their club’s official policies and procedures. McLauglin complained that Powell, “would not even consider all the IOMC documents which proved that the national chapter had everything to do with how its members acted that night.”
McLaughlin said that during post-trial interviews with the dismissed jurors he was told they thought the Iron Order should be “sent a message.”
“One of the women jurors was incredulous that they had not been able to make a finding against the Iron Order,” McLaughlin said. “She told me she would have awarded $100 million in punitive damages.”
Maybe on appeal. Or maybe after the next homicide.