Judge Henry J. Hall was blunt when he addressed Pinkberry co-founder Young Lee in court Friday, calling his 2011 attack on a homeless man both "horrendous" and "fairly merciless."
Lee, 49, was convicted last year of beating Ronald Bolding with a tire iron while Bolding was panhandling along an East Hollywood street. Hall handed Lee the maximum sentence of seven years in prison Friday, despite his attorney's request that he be evaluated for possible probation.
Hall warned that had it not been for a group of citizens who intervened in the attack, "we might be here talking about a wholly different set of facts."
Prosecutors said Bolding was panhandling by a 101 Freeway ramp when Lee pulled up in his Range Rover. Lee became angry when Bolding flashed a tattoo to people in the car -- including Lee's fiancee and other women -- showing a stick-figure couple having sex.
Lee drove off but returned with another man and beat Bolding. Prosecutors said Lee felt "disrespected" by Bolding, which prompted the attack.
The other attacker has not been identified, prosecutors said, and is believed to be in Korea.
Bolding suffered a broken left arm and several cuts to the head, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. He has filed a personal injury lawsuit against Lee, seeking damages for the attack.
Lee also allegedly threatened a witness. Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Zoumberakis said Friday there were no plans to continue to investigate that threat in order to file charges.
His attorney, Phillip Kent Cohen, had asked Hall for an evaluation to determine whether Lee's case was legally considered "unusual" enough to warrant probation rather than prison time. Cohen said the evaluation would not be "condoning anything, but trying to get a better understanding of the switch that turned on."
Cameron Keys, described as a longtime friend of Lee's, told the judge Lee had been homeless about a decade ago while he battled drug and alcohol addictions. Since his recovery, Keys said, Lee was "thoughtful, serious" and "dedicated to his friends and family."
Lee's wife, Jieun Kim, wiped her eyes as she spoke to the judge through a translator.
"It hurts me deeply when my child, who just started speaking, asks for his dad," she said. "I beg you to not separate our family, to keep our family together."
Lee, dressed in an orange, jail-issued jumpsuit, stared ahead as the judge delivered his sentence. Though he helped found the frozen yogurt company in 2005, he is no longer involved with Pinkberry.
Outside the courtroom, Bolding's attorney said the decision "wasn't a surprise."
"It's unfortunate when somebody goes to prison, but it was probably well-deserved here," Gary Casselman said. "Not probably. It was well-deserved."
Zoumberakis called the sentence "absolutely justified based on the conduct." He also said that given the brutality of the beating, it was lucky a few good Samaritans intervened.
"If it wasn't for those good people, this would have been a murder case," he said. "I have no doubt in my mind."