After hearing eight days of testimony, Superior Court Judge John Einhorn ruled, May 22, that the five men from La Jolla known as the “Bird Rock Bandits” should stand trial for the murder of professional surfer Emery Kauanui Jr., 24. The judge also ruled, however, that the prosecution failed to prove the defendants had acted as members of a criminal street gang, a charge that potentially carried with it a life sentence.
Seth Cravens, 22; Eric House, 21; Matthew Yanke, 21; Henri Hendricks, 22; and Orlando Osuna, 23; all graduates of La Jolla High School, are charged with second degree murder and are due back in court June 10 for arraignment and a trial date. If convicted, each faces a prison sentence of 15 years to life. All charged are free on bail with the exception of Cravens who remains in county jail in lieu of $1.5 million bail.
Additionally, the judge ruled that Cravens will stand trial on charges dating back to 2004 which include battery, making a criminal threat, and assault causing great bodily injury. Defendants, Hendricks, Osuna, and Yanke must also stand trial for alleged assaults committed in the past.
According to investigators, on May 24, 2007, a fight broke out at the La Jolla Brew House on Faye Avenue over a drink that may or may not have been spilled intentionally on Eric House by Kauanui. After being asked by the staff of the Brew House to leave the bar, Kauanui was driven home in his car by his girlfriend Jennifer Grasso.
Prosecutors contend that the five men then drove in Yanke’s black Ford Explorer to Kauanui’s home and that upon arriving shortly after 1:30 a.m., found him alone and unarmed. Prosecutors allege that according to neighbor accounts, Kauanui was then attacked by four men and while on the floor was repeatedly kicked and punched by the group. Prosecutors said they have testimony from eyewitnesses who said they saw Seth Cravens deliver the final blow, which knocked Kauanui to the ground rendering him unconscious and bleeding from his head.
Kauanui died four days later of an epidural hematoma at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla.
On Thursday, May 15, Kauanui’s mother Cindy Kauanui appeared on The Today Show with Ann Curry and answered questions about the situation surrounding her son’s death. She said, “I think it would have happened to someone eventually because they had a history.”
She described her son as a surfer and not a fighter and contended that her son did not hit anybody on the night of the fight. She said the Coroner’s autopsy report will show that Kauanui’s hands were flawless – indicating he had not hit anyone. Cindy Kauanui’s final remark to Curry was, “I believe in the American justice system and I believe that the truth will surface. Truth is truth and you can’t change it.”
Richard Gates, attorney for Henry Hendricks said he wasn’t surprised about the judges ruling on the gang allegations. Gates also said he intends to fight the order that requires his client to go to trial on a charge of murder. He said the ruling essentially means that Hendricks bears the same responsibility in the death of Emery Kauanui as the person who threw the punch that ultimately led to his death.
When asked if he wanted to relay a message to the people of La Jolla, Gates said, “To the people of La Jolla and people every where, this case is a perfect example of how fragile life is. How things can go so terribly wrong in a life over a spilled beer and how so many lives are irrevocably changed and not for the better.”