Homeless man acquitted in nose biting

Eric Evan Miller asked for water to wash bits of Ernest Holsten’s nose out of his mouth during a Dec. 1, 2002, interview with Detective Marcos D. Spittal.

The homeless 38-year-old felon and former landscaper had with one clean bite just chomped the nib off Holsten’s nose. The bite almost went down to the bone, leaving Holsten looking much like a skeleton, according to court testimony Wednesday.

The bite followed a struggle that began because of a woman, Holsten and Miller testified at the one-day trial.

But that’s where agreement ends.

Miller said he bit in self-defense. The jury believed him and acquitted him of malicious wounding.

Miller claims to have been on the ground, pinned under Holsten’s heavy frame in fear of bodily harm. He told the jury that Holsten was the aggressor.

“I wasn’t trying to bite this man’s nose off,” Miller said on the stand. “I don’t think anyone has that understanding unless he’s a career Hannibal Lecter.”

Severing the nose took no effort, Miller said.

But Holsten, a 34-year-old felon with a record of at least seven convictions, claimed in testimony that Miller was the aggressor and acted in rage.

Holsten has assault and sodomy convictions, in addition to two charges of crimes against nature, one with a child between 13 and 15.

Miller told jurors he tried to bite Holsten’s right cheek, but when an incisor made contact with Holsten’s skin, the man shook his head and his nose ended up in Miller’s mouth as his jaws clamped down, he said.

Fighting began about 7:30 p.m., when the two sat down to a game of chess at a Potomac Mills Road homeless shelter and a woman named Mary Alexander walked by.

Holsten said he was discussing scripture with her. Miller claims Holsten was making sexual references.

Miller claims he asked Holsten not to make remarks because people in the shelter had been talking about how Alexander liked to wear short skirts. Holsten said Miller was interested in Mary.

Miller acknowledged believing Alexander is attractive, but said he had no romantic interest in her.

The two began arguing after the original comment about Alexander was made.

Miller told jurors that Holsten walked around the table and acted as the aggressor. He claimed to have backed away twice, only to be followed by Holsten, who bit his ribs on the right side after throwing several punches. Miller said Holsten made a motion as if he was going to bite Miller’s nipple.

At one point in the fight, he had Holsten subdued but let him go at the direction of shelter employees. Miller said he did not ask for their help because they were busy and he didn’t want anyone to get hurt. After he let go of Holsten, the man pinned him, Miller said. He claims to have bit down in defense as the silhouette of a police officer appeared in the door.

But Spittal, then the first patrol officer to respond, said Miller was outside of the shelter, about 20 feet from the door, when he arrived on scene.

Holsten’s bite did not break skin because Miller was wearing two T-shirts, Defense attorney Robert Coleman said.

Miller wore a shirt that read “Question Everything,” in court Wednesday

Holsten claimed to have been punched in the face three or four times by Miller at the onset of the fight and put in a head lock, prompting him to bite the other’s ribs because he couldn’t breathe. He claims Miller reached up at that point and bit his nose out of anger.

Holsten has undergone two skin-graft surgeries to reconstruction his nose and expects to have three more within the year.