A Travis County jury concluded that the punch that left Texas Christian University football player Cole Novak with a broken jaw outside of a West Sixth Street bar last summer was justified.
Needing less than an hour to reach a verdict Wednesday, the jury acquitted 25-year-old defendant Humberto “Beto” Barrera of all charges, deciding he had lawfully protected his friend from harm when he hit Novak once in the mouth. The jury also acquitted Barrera of a lesser charge of misdemeanor assault.
Barrera turned and hugged his lawyer, Allison Heathman, as his family members cried in the courtroom when state District Judge Clifford Brown read the verdict. Barrera, a former Texas State University student who is originally from Del Rio, had faced two to 20 years in prison if convicted of aggravated assault.
Earlier in the day, Barrera’s friend Miles Hanson had testified that he was frightened when the larger Novak pursued him about 30 feet down the sidewalk outside of the Concrete Cowboy on June 16, 2017. Hanson had just been kicked out of the bar after he was punched to the ground by Novak’s brother, Cade, who had taken issue with Hanson speaking to his girlfriend.
Fearing for his safety, Hanson said he retreated from Cole Novak, who is 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighed about 260 pounds at the time. Cole Novak had balled up his fist and was moving toward him, Hanson said.
“He was looking to continue the fight,” Hanson said. “He was very energetic. He was laughing in an aggressive, sarcastic way. … I perceived it as looking for trouble.”
In her final arguments, Heathman called the Novak brothers “bullies.”
“Cole was capable of causing serious bodily injury when my client intervened,” she said.
Barrera, who is 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 168 pounds, walked up and delivered the punch, leaving Novak bloodied and dazed.
Hanson said from the witness stand that he was in Barrera’s debt and that he didn’t “want him to get in any sort of punishment for something anyone who’s brave enough would do.”
After the confrontation, Cole Novak took ride in an Uber vehicle to an emergency care center and later went to a hospital for surgery.
Barrera and Hanson were out that night celebrating at a friend’s bachelor party. The Novaks were drinking with friends and relatives. The incident happened around the bar’s closing time.
Cole Novak, a Georgetown High School graduate and a reserve senior tight end for TCU, is participating in preseason practices with the Horned Frogs and was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read. He testified Tuesday he never saw Barrera before the punch and that the pain felt like he had been struck with a baseball bat. He said he was not looking to fight, but was confronting Hanson for laughing at his brother for overreacting to his conversation with Cade’s girlfriend.
Heathman said Novak’s testimony largely matched Hanson’s, but had stopped short of telling the whole story.
Novak’s jaw was broken on two places and he underwent surgery to get screws and plates in his mouth. He could not speak clearly or eat solid foods for three weeks and lost 25 to 30 pounds, he said. He missed the entire 2017 season at TCU, but was granted an additional year of eligibility because of the injuries he suffered from the punch.
Novak said he still feels lingering effects of the punch on the football field when he is hit.
Novak’s father, Jeff Novak, a former NFL player with the Jacksonville Jaguars, said the family will pursue a lawsuit against Barrera.