Man pleads guilty, woman’s trial starts in ‘party game’ death

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Supplied photo of Theresa Guy’s son John Powell Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, in Romeoville. Powell was killed after he accepted a $5 bet from Jimmy Mounts to take a hit from Tiffany Startz. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

Just before he was supposed to go on trial Monday in the “party game” death of a man in September 2010, a 27-year-old Romeoville man struck a plea deal with prosecutors.

Jimmy Mounts pleaded guilty Monday to attempted obstruction of justice for lying to police about what happened the night 25-year-old John Powell was killed.

In exchange, he was sentenced to two years of conditional discharge. If he doesn’t uphold the conditions of his sentence he would face four months in jail.

Mounts’ plea came as he and Tiffany Startz, 22, of Joliet were to stand trial on charges of reckless conduct and battery. Startz’s trial kicked off after the plea, with four witnesses testifying before Will County Judge Edward Burmila.

Prosecutors allege Mounts offered Powell $5 to take a punch in the face from Startz during a garage party in Crest Hill.

Powell, an aspiring rapper who stood 5-foot 8-inches tall and weighed 140 pounds, was there to perform and took Mounts’ wager.

Alison Tomczak, whose boyfriend was friends with Powell, said Powell put his arms behind his back, leaned toward Startz and turned his head toward his right shoulder.

Startz, who was 5-foot 5-inches tall and 142 pounds, swung and hit Powell on the left side of his face, Assistant State’s Attorney Fred Harvey said. Tomczak said Startz hit Powell with “full force,” but Kristin Lowdermilk, another party guest, said it didn’t look like Startz hit him too hard.

“For a couple of minutes he appeared to be fine,” Lowdermilk said.

Powell soon collapsed, though. Lowdermilk said she tried to catch him, falling with him to the ground. Tomczak said she saw Powell’s eyes roll back in his head, and he began foaming at the mouth.

“I threw up,” Tomczak said.

Someone called 911, and guests followed a dispatcher’s instruction to take off Powell’s shirt and roll him on his side. He was eventually taken to Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, where he was pronounced dead. Meanwhile, Lowdermilk and Tomczak acknowledged, they also initially lied to police about what happened to him. And Mounts told investigators that Powell was injured after he tripped and fell.

Will County Coroner Patrick O’Neil said a vein in Powell’s neck opened when his head snapped back from the punch, causing a brain injury. O’Neil eventually ruled the death a homicide, and Powell’s death certificate notes it was “the result of a party game.”

Startz revealed no emotion as she sat beside her attorneys Monday. But Powell’s mother, Theresa Guy, sat in the front row of the courtroom gallery and fidgeted as Startz’s attorney, Ira Goldstein, said his client didn’t commit a crime because she had Powell’s permission to throw the punch.

Then Guy sobbed when witnesses described the death of her son.

When testimony ended for the day, Guy said she wasn’t happy with Mounts’ plea deal.

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