2 Guilty of Killing Teen-Ager at Beach : Courts: Defendants were in a mob that hurled objects at the youth and his friends.
Two youths were convicted of second-degree murder and nine other felonies Thursday for a mob attack at an Orange County beach last year that resulted in the death of a teen-ager after a paint roller rod pierced his skull.
Prosecutors could not prove that Hector Penuelas, 17, and Julio Perez Bonilla, 18, hurled the paint roller that fatally wounded a San Clemente High School senior. But Superior Court Judge Everett W. Dickey said the young men are as guilty as the killer because they joined their friends in throwing pipes, bottles, wood chunks and other objects at the victim and his friends.
Steve Woods, 17, died 25 days after the attack.
The attack sent shock waves through San Clemente, where outraged residents demanded tough treatment for the defendants and held rallies and protests to complain about crime and gangs.
The tragedy also exposed racial divisions in the beachside neighborhoods. A group of Latino activists complained that race was behind the murder charges and that the killing was being used to unfairly stereotype Latinos as gang members and criminals.
On Thursday, Kathy Woods, the mother of the slain youth, said she was pleased with the verdicts and wants the defendants sent to prison for as long as possible.
“I feel sorry for the parents (of the defendants), but their sons are alive,” she said. “I feel my son lost at least 60 years of his life. I would like to see at least 20 of theirs.”
But Arturo Montez of the League of United Latin America Citizens decried the judge’s decision, saying the Latino defendants were being punished too harshly for the death of Woods, who was white.
“My concern is how quickly the court system moves to incarcerate Latinos,” Montez said. “I think the whole court system is one-sided and lopsided. Justice is definitely colored behind the Orange Curtain.”
The Oct. 15 attack was sparked when Bonilla, a gang member, and a friend pushed and punched one of Woods’ friends. Later, when Woods and his friends tried to flee the parking lot at Calafia Beach County Park in San Clemente, their cars were pelted with pipes and bottles.
Woods was riding in the passenger seat when a paint roller rod crashed through the window and lodged in his skull.
Bonilla and Penuelas--two of six defendants charged in Woods’ killing--said they acted in self-defense because they believed that Woods and his friends were driving toward them and planning an attack in revenge for the earlier fight.
But the judge said the defendants provoked the attack and noted that the victims had no choice but to drive past the defendants--who were congregated near the park’s only exit.
During the non-jury trial, defense attorneys for Penuelas and Bonilla asked Dickey to convict their clients of involuntary manslaughter, arguing that the killing was a freak accident and their clients never intended to hurt anyone.
Dickey set sentencing for Jan. 13. The defendants were juveniles at the time of the attack, but were tried as adults because of the serious nature of the charges. They each face a minimum sentence of 15 years to life in prison, but the judge also has the discretion to sentence them as juveniles to the California Youth Authority, where they could be released when they turn 25.
A third defendant, Arturo Villalobos, 19, pleaded guilty Jan. 11 to voluntary manslaughter and gang involvement charges. He faces up to 14 years in prison when he is sentenced Sept. 30.
The three remaining defendants are Rogelio Solis, 18; Juan Enriquez Alcocer, 20, and Saul Penuelas, 18, Hector Penuelas’ older brother. All are charged with murder and being gang members or associates.