More than a year after battling for his life when he was stabbed outside a midtown bar, French train hero Spencer Stone quietly walked into a nearly empty Sacramento Superior Court chamber Friday and took a seat.
Accompanied by his girlfriend and his sister, Stone, 24, waited for James Tran, the 29-year-old man charged with attempted murder in the October 2015 brawl, to appear. A call hours before had alerted Stone that Tran would enter a plea. Tran’s Friday court appearance was originally scheduled as a trial readiness conference ahead of a March 30 preliminary hearing.
“It was important for me to be here for myself,” Stone said. “I just kind of wanted to see him face-to-face.”
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But the two would never make eye contact, Stone said after the hearing. Instead, he looked on from his courtroom seat as Tran pleaded guilty Friday morning to attempted murder in the incident.
Tran made the plea, which includes a nine-year sentence, as part of a deal reached by prosecutors and defense attorneys. The plea bargain called for a five-year sentence for the attempted murder charge. Additional enhancements of causing great bodily injury and the use of a deadly weapon added a three-year and one-year sentence, respectively, said Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Anthony Ortiz.
Tran will return on May 12 for a sentencing hearing in Sacramento Superior Court.
Stone, a former Air Force staff sergeant, said he has recovered from stab wounds to his heart, liver and lung, with only the scars remaining.
“At the end of the day, I forgive the guy,” Stone said after the hearing. “We all make stupid decisions, some dumber than others. I hope he learns from it.”
Stone was stabbed repeatedly outside a 21st and K street nightclub at 12:45 a.m. The altercation started as an argument between Stone’s group and a group of people accompanying Tran after someone in Tran’s party allegedly videotaped someone in Stone’s group.
The altercation initially died down but then turned into a physical fight after Stone was swarmed by several men, including Tran. Surveillance video from a nearby liquor store showed Stone fighting the group, including the man who stabbed him, later identified as Tran.
Stone was rushed to UC Davis Medical Center and underwent open-heart surgery. Tran was arrested by Sacramento Police Department officers in Elk Grove almost a month after the incident.
Ortiz announced in a February 2016 hearing that he planned to file an amended criminal complaint alleging a gang enhancement against Tran. Ortiz said he credited evidence of Tran’s prior involvement with the Hop Sing gang for his ability to reach a plea deal.
“There are bar fights that happen all the time and fistfights,” he said. “This ended in Mr. Stone being on the hospital bed, fighting for his life, because the defendant was a gang member.”
Stone and two childhood friends from Sacramento became instant celebrities when they tackled and disarmed a gunman on a train while on vacation in August 2015. Stone, Anthony Sadler and Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos were awarded France’s Legion of Honor for their courage.
The three, with the help of journalist Jeffrey E. Stern, penned a book about the attack called “The 15:17 to Paris” that was published about a year after the incident.
Stone said he is no longer serving in the Air Force, a decision he had made prior to the 2015 stabbing. He lives in the Sacramento area and hopes to enroll at Sacramento State in the fall semester, where he may study international relations.