A young man should be convicted of murder for throwing a punch that killed a professional surfer during a fight in La Jolla, a prosecutor said Monday, but the defendant’s attorney said her client acted in self-defense.
In her opening statement in the trial of Seth Cravens, prosecutor Sophia Roach said the 22-year-old defendant was part of a group of five men who went to the home of Emery Kauanui around 1:30 a.m. on May 24, 2007, to jump the victim after a drink-spilling incident at a nearby bar.
After a group attack in the street and a one-on-one fight with Eric House, Kauanui got up and confronted Cravens, the prosecutor said.
"(Emery) said, ‘How are you going to jump me in front of my own house?’'' Roach told the jury.
She said Kauanui, 24, was hit with one punch in the head, knocking him straight back, where he hit his skull on the concrete.
“It made a sound that nobody has forgotten,’' Roach told the jury.
Kauanui suffered severe brain swelling and died four days later at a hospital.
After news spread of Kauanui’s death in La Jolla, people who said they were victimized by Cravens in violent incidents dating back to 2005 started calling police, Roach told the jury.
One man told police that he was with a friend at a different La Jolla bar two weeks before Kauanui’s death when Cravens beat him unconsciousness, according to the prosecutor.
The friend went to investigators the next day and identified Cravens as the attacker from a La Jolla High School yearbook, Roach said.
Another man told police that he and a friend got into an argument with Cravens and the defendant sucker-punched him, the prosecutor said.
Cravens bumped into another man at a New Year’s Eve party in 2006 and, when the man didn’t apologize, gave him a black eye, Roach told the jury.
When a woman complained about a group of men throwing flower pots from a balcony in a separate incident, Cravens punched her in the chest, Roach told the jury.
Cravens was also part of a group that attacked three people on the beach in La Jolla after asking the victims where they were from, the prosecutor alleged.
She said the defendant was part of a group that got off a New Year’s Eve party bus and attacked people at a party.
In addition to second-degree murder, the prosecutor urged jurors to convict the defendant of 10 other counts, including assault, battery and making a criminal threat.
Defense attorney Mary Ellen Attridge said in her opening statement that what happened to Kauanui was a tragedy and unnecessary, but did not rise to the level of murder.
“It was senseless, but it was not a murder. It was a case of self-
defense,’' Attridge said.
She said Kauanui and others involved in the fatal incident had been drinking heavily at the La Jolla Brew House at an end-of-school year celebration, featuring many friends who had attended La Jolla High School.
Attridge said Kauanui, who was there with his girlfriend, either spilled or poured a drink on House, sparking a brief confrontation.
All of the participants in the fight that night - Kauanui, Cravens, House, Orlando Osuna, Hank Hendricks and Matthew Yanke - had been friends for
a long time, Attridge told the jury.
She said the bar manager asked Kauanui to leave because he was severely intoxicated.
Attridge said the victim’s blood-alcohol level was later measured at .17 percent, and he had smoked marijuana that night.
The attorney said House and Kauanui had stupidly argued about who was more local to the area.
Once Kauanui was driven home by girlfriend Jenny Grosso, he called House, Cravens and other friends about the beef at the bar, Attridge said.
She said Cravens, House, Yanke, Osuna and Hendricks went to Kauanui’s home with the plan for it to be a one-on-one fight between Kauanui and House.
The attorney said Kauanui - without his shirt - met House in the street and `"beat the living tar’’ out of him.
Attridge likened the fight to a fast-moving rugby scrum that lasted 2
1/2 to 3 minutes.
“Everybody was yelling and screaming,’' the attorney said.
House gave up and Kauanui confronted Cravens and screamed at him from five inches away, Attridge said.
Cravens punched Kauanui with his left hand - even though he is right- handed - sending the victim backward, the attorney said.
After Kauanui hit his head, Cravens checked his pulse before everyone
scattered, Attridge said.
“The world stopped for a second,’' she told the jury.
Attridge said the blow thrown by Cravens, in combination with the drugs and alcohol consumed by Kauanui, caused him to lose consciousness and hit his head, causing his death.
The attorney said four of the counts against Cravens were previously investigated by police but were found to be un-prosecutable.
n one instance, another man was convicted of a misdemeanor for making a criminal threat, Attridge said. In that case, Cravens was never identified as someone who was there, she said.
Another man who was attacked at a party knew Cravens and said he didn’t know the man who hit him, Attridge said.
The victim’s wife also said it wasn’t Cravens who attacked them, but the couple called police after Kauanui died to get their revenge, Attridge told
She reiterated that Kauanui’s death was senseless, but argued that when word spread of the death in La Jolla, the case against Cravens went from a prosecution to `"runaway train.’'
House, Osuna, Yanke and Hendricks pleaded guilty to charges stemming from Kauanui’s death and were sentenced to time in local custody.
Cravens faces 15 years to life in prison if convicted of murder.