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Teen Pleads Guilty in Fatal Beating

Times Staff Writer

A 19-year-old Ventura man has pleaded guilty to participating in the group killing of a homeless man, who was kicked and attacked with stones last year as he lay in a sleeping bag near the beach.

Christopher Dunham, who has been in jail since his arrest last year, faces 15 years to life in prison when he is sentenced on Jan. 7, a prosecutor said Tuesday. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

“We had a very good case and he had virtually no defense,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Stacy Ratner said.

Dunham is one of four people charged in the slaying of homeless Army veteran James Clark, who was killed June 30, 2001, at a popular homeless encampment known as Hobo Jungle near the Ventura River.

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Last week, a Superior Court jury found Dunham’s friend, Robert Coffman, 19, of Oak View, guilty of first-degree murder and robbery. Clark’s backpack and a jar of pennies were stolen before he was killed.

Coffman, portrayed by prosecutors as a violent white supremacist, faces life in prison when he is sentenced Nov. 15.

Another defendant, Rocky Mattley, who was 14 at the time of the slaying, was convicted in a Juvenile Court hearing of second-degree murder and is serving time at the California Youth Authority.

The remaining defendant, Timothy Becker, 19, of Ventura, is awaiting trial, which is scheduled for Nov. 4. It is possible, Ratner said, that Becker could plead guilty before trial.

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According to Ventura police, the four teens were headed to a beach party at Surfers Point when they came upon Clark. They allegedly kicked and stoned Clark and, according to testimony at his trial, Coffman later returned and continued kicking him.

Clark died of multiple blunt force injuries, including a crushed kidney, a broken rib and a possible skull fracture.

Dunham will not be eligible for parole until he is 35, Ratner said.

Dunham’s attorney was not available for comment.

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