Jury deliberations began Monday in the trial of a young man charged with second-degree murder for landing a fatal punch to the chin of a professional surfer during a group fight in La Jolla last year.
Seth Cravens, 22, faces 15 years to life in convicted in the May 2007 death of 24-year-old Emery Kauanui.
In her closing argument, defense attorney Mary Ellen Attridge told the jury that Cravens acted in self-defense.
The attorney said Cravens, who is right-handed, punched Kauanui once with his left hand when the victim got up from a one-on-one fight with Eric House, then screamed at Cravens from five inches away.
Attridge said Kauanui and House had been kicked out of the nearby La Jolla Brew House bar after a drink-spilling incident, after which Kauanui had threatened to kick House’s “ass.’'
“He (Kauanui) was inviting a fight,’' Attridge told the jury. “He (Kauanui) was inviting a one-on-one fight with Eric.’'
The attorney said Kauanui called House and Cravens after leaving the bar, “looking for a fight.’' Kauanui also called a friend just minutes before the fight, telling him “I’ve got (a) beef at my house ... and I’m gonna kill ‘em,’' she said.
The attorney suggested Kauanui was in a “homicidal state of mind,’' and therefore Cravens’ actions were reasonable under the circumstances.
A number of witnesses who happened upon the fight said they saw Kauanui get up from the fight with House and get in the face of Cravens, saying “What the (expletive)? What the (expletive)?’' Attridge told the jury.
She said Cravens responded by hitting Kauanui with one punch with his off-hand.
Later, when a friend told Cravens that Kauanui had suffered a serious brain injury, the defendant cried, Attridge told the jury.
She said the prosecution failed to show that Cravens acted with a conscious disregard for human life, knowing that one of his punches could kill someone. Attridge also argued that Cravens has the right to use the amount of force necessary to help House, who just had the “tar’’ beaten out of him by Kauanui.
She said her client was not guilty of a heat of passion killing - or voluntary manslaughter - nor was he guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
The attorney said prosecutor Sophia Roach failed to prove that the fight was a group beating on Kauanui by House, Cravens, Hank Hendricks, Orlando Osuna and Matthew Yanke.
Attridge also said the prosecutor failed to prove that Cravens was guilty of threatening and assaulting several other people in unrelated incidents dating back to 2005, though the attorney did concede that it was Cravens who attacked one man in La Jolla and battered a woman in separate incidents.
Attridge said Roach wanted jurors to convict Cravens on passion and prejudice.
“This is a case that was misread from the get-go, both the facts and the law,’' she told the jury. “This prosecution has been a runaway train.’'
But Roach, in her closing rebuttal argument, said Cravens did not react reasonably when Kauanui confronted him after being beaten in front of his own house.
The prosecutor said Kauanui was in the middle of a “moving scrum’’ when the defendants attacked him.
“Mr. Kauanui had a right to use self-defense,’' Roach told the jury. “He was fighting for his life.’'
The prosecutor said Cravens might have punched Kauanui with his left hand because his right hand was still hurting from a fight two weeks earlier.
Roach told the jury to consider that the charges against Cravens represented a common plan or scheme, and that the defendant “had a way of doing things.’'
Before he left the bar, Kauanui asked to be escorted out because he was afraid, Roach told the jury.
“He knew it was going to be a group attack,’' the prosecutor said.
The question for the jury, Roach said, is whether it would excuse or justify Cravens’ conduct, saying the defendant had no claim to self-defense.
“This was a planned and deliberate act,’' Roach said.
House, 21, Osuna, 23, Hendricks, 22, and Yanke, 22, pleaded guilty to lesser charges stemming from Kauanui’s death and were sentenced to time in local custody.
Yanke and Hendricks testified for the defense in Cravens’ trial.