SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A juvenile court judge will begin hearing testimony Monday to decide if a Utah teenager accused of killing a soccer referee with a single punch will be tried in juvenile or adult court.
The hearing is closed to the media and public to protect details of the 17-year-old’s social and psychological background from coming out. The Associated Press is withholding his name because he’s a minor.
The teenager is charged with homicide by assault, a count issued when an attack unintentionally causes death. Prosecutors want to try him as an adult.
Police say the teenager punched 46-year-old Ricardo Portillo once in the head on April 27 after Portillo called a foul on him in a soccer game. Portillo died after a weeklong coma, leaving behind three daughters.
On Friday, the teen’s attorney, Monte Sleight acknowledged there is probable cause the teen committed the crime in a private meeting with prosecutors and Juvenile Court Judge Kimberly Hornak, court records show.
The development means Monday’s hearing, which could go into Tuesday, will focus exclusively on whether the case stays in juvenile court or is moved to adult court as requested by prosecutors.
Prosecutors want the boy tried as an adult due to seriousness of what happened and because he’s set to turn 18 in less than three months. At a previous hearing in which the defense asked that the boy be allowed to go home to his family as the case progresses, prosecutors said the teen and his family are a flight risk.
Patricia Cassell, a Salt Lake County deputy district attorney, pointed out that he and his father left the soccer field after the incident despite being told to stay — before they even knew Portillo was in critical condition. Now that he’s facing possible prison time, the boy and his family are definitely a flight risk, Cassell said.
But Sleight says the boy is a good kid who excelled in school and simply made one horrible mistake. He told the judge that the teen comes from a hard-working, stable family who has lived in Utah for 20 years. He pointed out that the boy turned himself into police following the incident.
Judge Hornak denied the request for him to go home in the June hearing, saying she’s impressed by the boy’s academic record, lack of violent history and strong family dynamic. But she said the seriousness of the crime and the consequences he’s facing carried more weight in her decision.
The teen’s sister read a written apology following that hearing, marking the first and only time the family has spoken in a public setting about the incident.
“We want to tell the Portillo family how sorry we are and how horrible we all feel about what has happened here,” the young woman that day, crying. “We cannot imagine how much you must miss your father and we hope you can find peace.”