3 Teens to Face 4-Year Terms in Paint-Ball Spree
Three teens who videotaped their late-night drive-by attacks with paint pellets and baseball bats on a dozen random San Fernando Valley victims face four-year prison terms under plea bargains reached Friday.
Attorneys for both sides agreed the sentences were stiff, but prosecutors said it was justified in a case that draws the line between youthful mischief and serious criminal behavior.
The 20-minute videotape that shocked a national television audience showed the defendants taunting pedestrians and bicyclists and howling with laughter as they aimed for their faces and fired a paint-ball gun. The guns, used for war games in which participants wear protective gear, fire paint pellets at up to 300 feet per second.
“It’s a sad commentary on society that kids think this is funny,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert L. Cohen. “This is a far cry from a childish prank. I think it is reprehensible behavior.”
He added, “It’s very rare to get a look into people’s minds while they’re doing their crimes. These were mainstream kids. They were doing OK in school. But I can’t believe this is what most kids are doing.”
Anthony Skoblar, 18, and Javier Perez, 17, pleaded no contest to a single felony count of vandalism and four counts of assault using force likely to cause great bodily injury. Malcolm Boyd, 18, pleaded guilty to similar counts. All three return July 8, when Superior Court Judge Sandy R. Kriegler will formally sentence them.
Skoblar was the driver of the car, Boyd rode in the passenger seat, and Perez supplied the paint balls, the video shows.
Defense attorney William Graysen said he will call character witnesses, and perhaps some of the paint-ball victims, to try to convince the judge that his client, Skoblar, is remorseful and doesn’t deserve such a harsh sentence.
“If you want to present evidence to convince me it’s not a four-year case, you can give it your best shot,” said Kriegler.
Outside the courtroom, Graysen added that he had videotaped Skoblar being shot with paint balls and visiting the Museum of Tolerance to show he has learned from his encounter with the law.
“He’s not the monster on the tape. He’s a decent human being,” Graysen said.
“I think there’s been a visceral reaction” to the tape, he added. “People are very angry.”
The defendant’s father, Tony Skoblar, a waiter at an upscale Beverly Hills restaurant, told reporters: “They should be punished, but it’s a lot of time. Why are [prosecutors] destroying their lives?”
As his father spoke, Skoblar lunged at a television camera operator, pushing the lens away. He left court with his arm draped over the shoulders of his sobbing mother, Nada, a school cafeteria worker.
The pleas followed two hours of intense negotiations with Cohen, who told defense attorneys the conduct captured in the videotape had earned their clients stiff prison sentences despite their clean records and youth.
A week ago, 18-year-old Ruffy Flores, who had held the camera, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison. Asked why they had gone on the paint-ball and car-bashing rampage, Flores told Kriegler, “Basically, we had nothing to do.”
The 20-minute videotape, shown on national television, documents the foursome breaking into peals of laughter--first as they bashed seven cars with metal bats, and later as they fired orange paint balls at eight pedestrians, two bicyclists, a man sitting on a bench and a homeless woman pushing a shopping cart.
“That’s what the sport is all about--making people [ticked] off,” one of the young men said on the tape. Another adds, “People think we’re crazy, but I just think it’s really fun.”
Later, Boyd, leaning out of the car with a bat, says, “Ya wanna see me swing? Get ready for a surprise,” and he bashes a parked car with a bat. “That’s my coffee and my psychiatry. If I feel down on myself, I just do a little bashing,” he added.
One of the defendants jokes on the tape about about playing “human head baseball,” and the attacks soon turn toward people. The teen wielding the bat brags, “I rib-caged him” as he pokes the bat into a bicyclist’s midsection, forcing him to crash into the side mirror of a parked truck.
Eventually, the paint-ball gun is brought into play. “Life’s a bitch,” Boyd says as he fires, then brags: “I got him in the face.”
Skoblar urges him on: “Shoot for the face.”
Cohen said, “When you have to feel better about yourself by victimizing others, something is wrong.”
Boyd’s lawyer, Leonard Levine, described the defendants as victims.
“They’re victims of a lot of things--victims of the public’s total revulsion of crime, and juvenile crime in particular. But most of all, they’re victims of their own actions and their own stupidity.”
One of the paint-ball victims, Ann Burgers, summed up her feelings when she testified during the preliminary hearing:
“Well, one of them came up to me and said, ‘You got any change?’ Next thing I know, I’m being hit by paint balls. I know I wiped the paint out of my hair and it felt like blood. Can I say one thing? That’s not too nice for them to do something stupid like that.”