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Man given probation for baseball bat attack at restaurant

On one side of the courtroom sat Valarie Phillips Sconyers, mother of a young man who suffered severe injuries from the blow of a baseball bat during a senseless fight with a stranger.

On the other sat Heather Collins, mother of the boy who wielded the bat and was facing charges that could send him to prison for life.

But when the two women saw each other during the trial this week, the roles that separated them _ victim's mother, defendant's mother _ melted away. They spoke to each other as two women, both terribly afraid for their sons.

"Neither one of us ever wanted this to happen to either of our children," said Collins, standing with Sconyers outside the courthouse Thursday. "A mother knows how a mother feels."

They stood side-by-side even after the verdict that rocked the courtroom after three hours of jury deliberation Thursday. Sean Grieco, charged with the attempted murder of Christopher Phillips and the aggravated battery of Edgar York in a fight at a Northdale Chick-fil-A, was found guilty of a single count of misdemeanor battery against Phillips.

"I think on both sides, they just made bad choices," Terri Wright, forewoman of the three-woman, three-man jury, said later.

Grieco, who wiped tears from his eyes after the verdict, then stood before the judge for his sentence. He looked over at Phillips, a man he did not know before the fight Jan. 23.

"Chris, man, I just can't say I'm sorry enough," said Grieco, 18. "If I could do anything to take it back, I would."

Grieco faced a maximum sentence of one year in the county jail and would have gotten credit for 185 days he has spent there waiting for the trial. Circuit Judge Diana Allen instead gave him a sentence she said she hoped would help him gain insight into his actions and their consequences.

Grieco, who had no criminal record, was given a year of probation and ordered to undergo a psychological exam and get any counseling required. The judge also ordered that he work 150 hours of community service at a medical facility for people who have suffered severe head injuries.

Sconyers, Phillips' mother, said in court that there had been enough suffering on both sides, and later that she was pleased the sentence included counseling.

The flare-up between two groups of teens at the restaurant started on a rainy Saturday night over a few hard looks and spilled outside. Grieco, who worked at Sears, grabbed a baseball bat from his pickup and had a confrontation with Phillips and York, both 19 at the time.

Prosecutors said Grieco smashed a single shot to Phillips' left temple, a blow that left him bleeding and in a seizure, put him in a coma for days and changed his life forever. A second swing of the bat shattered York's elbow.

But the defense attorney argued that Grieco didn't want to fight, acted in self-defense and swung the bat only after Phillips came at him. "It was just a very, very unfortunate accident," said assistant public defender Shawn Davis. "This is just two teenage boys being teenage boys, trying to out-macho each other."

Phillips, who has no memory of that night, still faces surgeries, has memory problems, must take medication against seizures and cannot live alone or drive a car. Following the verdict, he spoke of his own questions about the lost moments that altered his life.

"Between me and Sean Grieco, if we ever got the chance to sit down, we'd wonder why, if it was pride, if we wanted other people to look at us like we were big," Phillips said.

A security video shows Phillips leaving the restaurant after words were exchanged and after Grieco had walked outside. The blows came moments later.

Grieco, who turned down a plea deal that would have meant 10 years in prison, was expected to be released from the Hillsborough County Jail Thursday night.