Pumpkin Thief Killer Gets 6 Years
A Buena Park man convicted of fatally shooting a teenage neighbor who stole a plastic Halloween pumpkin decoration from his front porch was sentenced Friday to six years in prison.
The sentence is less than the 11-year maximum Peter Tavita Solomona could have received and was met with cheers from his family.
It came after a jury rejected second-degree murder charges against Solomona, 50, and convicted him of involuntary manslaughter.
Determining a proper punishment for Solomona consumed three juries since the shooting in 1999 and all sides said Friday they are glad the legal drama is over.
At one point during Friday’s emotional hearing, Solomona’s wife, Fui, turned to the family of 17-year-old Brandon Ketsdever and said: “I am really sorry.... I know you are in pain just like we are in pain.”
Ketsdever’s parents urged the court to impose the maximum sentence.
They placed pictures of their son on a poster showing him swinging a baseball bat, in swim goggles, in a football uniform and in a tuxedo at the prom.
Their son “never had a mean bone in his body. The one time he did something he shouldn’t have, he was murdered for it,” his father, Jon Ketsdever, said.
“Our son paid with his life,” he said. “Our family and friends will pay for the rest of our lives.”
Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard F. Toohey said he was trying to strike a balance in the sentencing.
“I am not here to give anyone a break or send a message,” he said. “The conduct of Solomona has left two families in ruins. He ... acted in disregard for life.”
Ketsdever’s parents left the courtroom immediately after the verdict was read. His uncle said everyone wants to move on.
“It has been a long and arduous journey through the court system,” Jeff Ketsdever said. “I’m glad we’re finished.”
Ketsdever was a popular high school athlete at John F. Kennedy High School in La Palma.
He was pulling pranks with a group of friends on the night of Oct. 18, 1999, when Solomona confronted the group in the street outside his home.
Solomona, who carried a .357-magnum revolver, told jurors he was banging the gun against the roof of Ketsdever’s car, trying to get the boy’s attention, when the gun went off. Prosecutors alleged that Solomona fired at Ketsdever in a rage.
Solomona was convicted of murder in his first trial, but a judge threw out that decision, saying jury instructions were flawed.
A second trial, which was held in December, ended in a hung jury. In his third trial, jurors deliberated four days before reaching a decision in May
Deputy Dist. Atty. Carolyn Carlisle-Raines said she hopes the case sends a message.
“The only thing that can give meaning to this death is that the next time a person gets angry at another person, disrespects them, cuts them off on the freeway, they will remember ... it’s wrong to react in a way that places someone’s life in danger,” she said.
Solomona’s attorney, Milton Grimes, said the sentence was too harsh.
“We feel this case is a probation case,” he said. “It’s the most this man deserved. It was an accident, so it bothers me. He used the gun to get attention, not in a threatening manner.”
In a 22-page sentencing report written by the Orange County Probation Department, officials recommended against granting Solomona probation, noting the seriousness of the crime.
The report contains more than 10 letters of support from Solomona’s friends and family, as well as co-workers at the Pepsi plant where he worked.
They described him as a caring parent who also volunteered at a food bank.
“The case has some complexities. As a father, one cannot help but feel for [the victim’s] father,” Toohey said.
“On other hand, we got a lot of letters speaking to the defendant’s character,” the judge said.
As a deputy led Solomona out of the courtroom Friday, one of his relatives yelled, “Bye Pete, we love you!”