A Roanoke man who bit off and reportedly swallowed part of his grandfather’s index finger during a heated scuffle will be sentenced in the fall.

Aaron Michael Adams, who turns 23 on Friday, was charged in early 2018 with malicious wounding and aggravated malicious wounding in the incident.

At a bench trial Thursday, Roanoke Circuit Court Judge Chris Clemens found the evidence sufficient to convict Adams, but said he will wait until the Sept. 30 sentencing to determine which charge is more appropriate.

Aggravated malicious wounding can bring up to life in prison, while the punishment for malicious wounding ranges from five to 20 years.

Adams’ hearing coincided with an academic field trip, and a group of roughly 60 visiting students from Andrew Lewis Middle School, most of them rapt, were present for the case’s opening and its first witnesses.

A Roanoke police officer said she was first to arrive at the scene of the Dec. 15, 2017, attack and found the victim, Mark Douglas Lyle, at his northeast Roanoke home with his hand wrapped.

“I observed his left-hand index finger bleeding ... but just above the first knuckle appeared to be missing,” the officer said.

Lyle’s testified that Adams was his daughter’s son, whom he helped raise. Sometime around Thanksgiving 2017, Adams moved back in with him. He said their relationship was mostly harmonious with occasional dust-ups.

“When he starts to act out is when you try to correct him, tell him to stop.”

He said he and his grandson had an argument that night, then said the younger man jumped him. He denied hitting Adams and said he’d only pushed him and tried to wrestle away from him, but during the struggle, Adams bit his left index finger clean through. The stub was not recovered.

“It’s hard for me to hold on to stuff” now, said Lyle, who is left-handed.

“Later on, the nail started growing back through the finger,” he explained, a problem that required surgery.

Adams’ mental health issues were a key component of the trial; over the past 18 months since the incident, evaluations of his competency caused repeated delays in the case.

“He needs help,” Lyle testified. “Jail ain’t going to help him.”

Travis Lyle, who is Adams’ uncle, testified that minutes before the fight, the three of them had been out to dinner. But he also acknowledged Adams’ issue.

“He has bipolar,” Travis Lyle said, and claimed Adams had been inconsistent in taking prescribed medications.

During a break in testimony, Clemens noted that the two men had not had contact or communication for more than a year, due to the conditions of Adams’ bond, and he urged the grandfather and grandson — under the supervision of two deputies — to make contact.

“Get up and give him a hug, right now,” Clemens told Adams, who complied, and the two men shared a brief but somewhat wary embrace.

Adams took the stand as well, and claimed he is undergoing mental health treatment and now receives his medications by injection to ensure consistency.

He apologized for Mark Lyle’s injury, but his version of the fight differed.

“He was on top of me, hitting me,” Adams testified. “I was defending myself.”

All three men’s accounts of the fight bore inconsistencies and contradictions, but Clemens decided he simply was not persuaded by Adams: “I believe your grandfather’s testimony to a T.”

“This is very, very, very bad behavior,” the judge added. “You’ve got to make sure you don’t let anything happen like this in your future.”

Despite his finding of guilt, Clemens did not revoke Adams’ bond and said he would allow Adams and Lyle to have contact if they wanted. He urged the entire family to make peace.

“Won’t you all try to figure out a plan?” he asked them as a group. “You guys have to figure out a way to get along.”

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Neil Harvey covers state courts in Franklin County and the cities of Roanoke and Salem. Follow him on Twitter @newsharvey

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