SD MMA club instructor charged with murder following bar fight

Friday, April 01, 2011

In a sobering moment, a South Dakota MMA club instructor has been charged with murder following a fight outside a local bar.

A co-founder of a Watertown mixed martial arts team faces murder charges after the Thursday death of another man in what police described as an alcohol-fueled assault in a bar parking lot two weeks ago.

Jerrin Stulken, 28, initially was charged with aggravated assault. Stulken, a trainer for the Disciples of Combat MMA team, now faces alternate counts of second-degree murder or first-degree manslaughter.

The man Stulken is accused of fighting, Justin Jaton, 26, had been in critical condition at Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls since the incident. He died Thursday morning.

The altercation reportedly took place about 3 a.m. March 13 in uptown Watertown’s Kampeska parking lot.

Randy Leddy, a bartender and part-time fighter with the Disciples team, said the incident speaks to public misconceptions about his sport. He thinks alcohol explains more about the incident than mixed martial arts.

“It’s very frustrating for me that it has to be linked to MMA,” Leddy said. “The cage fighting community had nothing to do with it – it was two individuals and liquid courage.”

Police say Stulken attacked Jaton, a Rutland native, who sustained critical head injuries and was taken immediately to Sioux Falls.

Stulken continued to strike Jaton after he’d fallen on the pavement, police say.

“The term ‘fight’ should probably be used very loosely,” said Detective Chad Stahl of the Watertown Police Department. “This was an assault.”

Jerrin’s brother, Jeremy Stulken, is also listed as a trainer for the mixed martial arts organization Disciples of Combat on the group’s Facebook page. Last week, Stulken disputed that account without offering details.

“It was self-defense, that’s all I’ve got to say,” he said.

Mike Sanchez, the owner of the TCC Association and Stulken’s tae kwon do instructor for the past 12 years, doesn’t see the fight happening any other way.

“Jerrin Stulken would not punch anyone first,” Sanchez said. “Whatever happens, I know it was self-defense.”

Stulken was arrested on the murder and manslaughter charges Thursday and is being held on a $500,000 cash or surety bond at the Codington County Detention Center.

“There’s nobody that’s going to win in this deal. It’s just a good example of why not to get involved in these bar fights and how quickly they can turn bad, and how serious consequences are going to come of it,” Watertown Police Sergeant Tim Toomey said.

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As a direct result of the fight, one man is dead, and MMA is now being banned in the city.

The city of Watertown will no longer allow mixed martial arts at the Watertown Events Center, Mayor Gary Williams said Thursday.

The immediate rule change is the result of furious community backlash over the death of Justin Jaton, Williams said.

Jaton, a 26-year-old Rutland native, died Thursday morning at Sanford Hospital from injuries sustained on March 13 in a fight with a 28-year-old MMA trainer named Jerrin Stulken outside a Watertown bar.

Stulken is a founding member of the Disciples of Combat fight team, a popular Watertown MMA club. Stulken said last week that he has stepped down as a trainer since the incident, which he called an act of self-defense.

At least 50 people called Watertown City Hall on Thursday to voice their concerns about mixed martial arts events, Williams said. The temporary rule change likely will be followed by a city council debate on whether to ban mixed martial arts from the city entirely or to impose strict limits.

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