2 Anderson men avoid jail for forcing man to eat his beard

JAMES HILL. Photo released by Anderson County Shefiff
JAMES HILL. Photo released by Anderson County Shefiff

LAWRENCEBURG — A man who was forced to eat his beard at knifepoint said Tuesday he is satisfied with the punishment of his two assailants, even though they avoided jail time.

"There's no hard feelings," Harvey Westmoreland, 41, said in an interview at his home in Anderson County. "I mean, I ain't going to speak to them, and they better not pull in my driveway."

Troy F. Holt, 47, and James E. Hill, 51, were sentenced Tuesday in Anderson Circuit Court in connection with a bizarre altercation in May 2009, when Holt cut off Westmoreland's beard and forced him to eat it. Hill, meanwhile, held a sickle blade to Westmoreland and his brother, Joseph, 33.

Under the terms of a pretrial diversion program approved by Judge Charles Hickman, the charges against the defendants will be dismissed if they do not break the law for specified periods — five years for Holt and four years for Hill.

Asked what it was like to eat his beard, Harvey Westmoreland said, "Well, did you ever chew on a sponge? That'd be about what it would be like."

Westmoreland, who declined to be photographed, now sports a full brown beard tinged with gray on the chin.

Although the assault happened in 2009, details about the beard-eating were not widely known until last week. Since then, news of the case has spread over the Internet, and a portion of a WLEX newscast about the event briefly appeared on NBC's Today show Tuesday as part of a segment about a Brooklyn, N.Y., group called the Gregory Brothers, who produce viral videos.

After sentencing, Holt could not explain why he made Harvey Westmoreland eat his beard other than that things "got out of control" after some heavy drinking.

According to court documents, the Westmoreland brothers were held against their will in a corner of a barn on Willisburg Road in western Anderson County. Holt took a pocket knife and cut the brothers' shirts, then he put the knife to their throats and threatened to kill them. Using the knife, Holt then cut off Harvey Westmoreland's beard and forced him to eat it.

"I remember it pulling. I'd say it pulled out as much as he cut off," Westmoreland said.

Meanwhile, Hill stood by with a sling blade and told the Westmorelands that if they tried to leave, he would kill them, according to court documents and a police report. The Westmorelands also were told that if they called police, they "would not live till morning," according to court documents.

However, after about 30 minutes of beating and taunts, Holt and Hill let the Westmorelands leave.

What started the assault is in dispute. Harvey Westmoreland said it began over a riding mower that he sold to Holt. Holt said it was over a woman.

Holt alleged Tuesday he had previously been threatened by Harvey Westmoreland but he did not report the threats to police.

"I don't take threats very lightly," Holt said.

But he later said, "I ain't got no excuses about what I done."

Harvey Westmoreland, who said he is a convicted felon, indicated he had not issued any threats. "I'm not even allowed to have a gun," he said. "I ain't even touched a gun in, I'd say, 15 years."

In any case, Holt and Hill were indicted on charges of terroristic threatening, unlawful imprisonment and misdemeanor assault. The charges were amended to complicity to each count.

Hill had no comment after sentencing.

As a condition of their sentences, neither Holt nor Hill is to have contact with the Westmoreland brothers.

Harvey Westmoreland said he wants to forget the matter.

"It's all water under the bridge," he said. "I wished it had never happened, to tell you the truth. But I don't wish neither one of them ill will. I don't wish them no harm. I hope they both have a good Thanksgiving and a good Christmas and a Happy New Year."