ELKO — A Montello resident walked away from the courthouse a free man Thursday after a jury acquitted him on charges of home invasion and burglary.
Paul F. Toschak, 54, was accused of angrily kicking in the front door belonging to Montello resident Ron Culley on June 10, 2013, and threatening the victim. His trial began Tuesday.
The defendant, who had previously lived in a trailer on Culley’s property and was granted permission to use the house’s kitchen and bathroom, argued that he had been trying to collect a few of his possessions, including a guitar.
“Basically, after I opened the door, I had kicked the door in anger because I was upset. … It was a silly stupid thing to do,” Toschak said.
As Toschak entered the residence, Culley sprayed him in the face with a can of pepper spray.
Earlier that morning, Toschak angered Culley by waking him from a three-day slumber, asking for money he said he was owed, according to trial testimony.
Culley said Toschak returned that evening, yelling and banging on his door, so the victim called the authorities. A Elko County Sheriff’s Deputy found Toschak in a nearby bar and asked him to stay away from Culley.
Not long after the deputy left Montello, however, he received another call of a disturbance. The deputy spoke with Culley then found Toschak on his own property, recovering from the pepper spray.
Toschak apologized for not listening to the officer.
Deputy Public Defender Steffanie Foster told jurors that the prosecution’s case hinged on whether they believed Toschak was a tenant of Culley’s home and had a legal right to enter it.
“It’s very important to remember that the state has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Paul was not a legal occupant,” she said.
At one point from the witness stand, Toschak pulled from his pocket a key, which he said opened Culley’s front door. Culley had given it to him, Toschak said.
Deputy District Attorney Chad Thompson asked the jury to look past Culley’s eccentricities — such as animated facial expressions and odd gestures — and consider his testimony with the same weight they would anyone else.
Thompson cast doubt on whether the key actual matched with Culley’s door.
After about an hour of deliberation, the jury returned not guilty verdicts.
Culley is the defendant in a separate felony case. He is accused of shooting another Montello man in the foot.