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Gang Youth Denies Seeing Woods Attack

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A San Clemente gang member testified Friday that he hurled a pipe toward a group of teen-agers in self-defense and never saw what happened to Steve Woods, the 17-year-old student who was speared through the head with a paint roller.

Julio Perez Bonilla, 18, is on trial for the Woods murder. On Friday, Bonilla spoke for the first time about the melee in a beach parking lot that ended with the San Clemente teen-ager’s fatal injury.

Bonilla said he had been involved in a fistfight with another teen-ager just moments before Woods was speared, and believed the teen who lost the fight had rounded up some friends who were coming back for revenge.

“I grabbed the pipe. I thought they were going to do something to us,” Bonilla told a Superior Court judge. “I got frightened and I got scared.”

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Bonilla and five other young men--all described by prosecutors as gang members or associates--are charged with killing Woods, a San Clemente High School student who died 25 days after suffering the bizarre injury on Oct. 15, 1993.

Bonilla and a co-defendant, Hector Penuelas, 17, also of San Clemente, went on trial this week in Santa Ana. Bonilla took the witness stand Friday afternoon as the defense portion of the non-jury case got underway.

A third defendant has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and awaits sentencing while the remaining three defendants await trial.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Gary Paer has not disclosed which defendant may have wielded the paint roller rod, but has accused Bonilla and Penuelas of joining the attack on Woods and his friends at Calafia County Beach Park.

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A caravan of three cars, including the vehicle in which Woods was a passenger, were showered with bottles, rocks, beer cans, a tennis racquet, blocks of wood and several other items including the paint roller that lodged in Woods’ head. Paer said he suspects that the paint roller that killed Woods was in a truck driven by one of the other defendants awaiting trial, who worked as a painter.

Bonilla testified Friday that the dispute began several days earlier when one of Woods’ friends, Sterling Breckenridge, had angered Bonilla by staring him down and making an obscene hand gesture.

Breckenridge, Woods and several other friends had gone to the park to drink beer and hang out when Breckenridge drove by Bonilla and his friends and asked whether they knew about any parties later that evening. Bonilla testified he approached Breckenridge’s vehicle and pushed him in the head while Bonilla’s friend punched Breckenridge.

Breckenridge testified earlier in the week that after getting punched, he drove his vehicle back to his buddies and warned them to get out of the park. The park has only one exit, however, and the route required the teens to drive past Bonilla and his friends.

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Bonilla, who testified Friday he is a gang member, said he watched Breckenridge drive back to his friends and assumed the youths were returning to pick a fight. Bonilla said the cars were moving quickly toward him.

“That’s when I thought they were going to do something to us,” he said, adding that he grabbed a pipe for protection. As Woods’ car drove by, he hurled the pipe. He said he ran toward the trees, never witnessing the fatal attack on Woods.


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