Seth Cravens murder conviction upheld by state Supreme Court

City News Service

The state Supreme Court today upheld the second-degree murder conviction of a La Jolla man who killed a professional surfer with one punch during a fight outside the victim's home.

Reversing a lower court decision in the so-called "Bird Rock Bandit" case, the high court ruled there was sufficient evidence to uphold the murder conviction of 26-year-old Seth Cravens.

In August 2010, a three-justice panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal concluded there was no evidence that Cravens knew when he struck Emery Kauanui that the blow would be fatal and reduced the defendant's conviction to voluntary manslaughter.

The state Supreme Court ruled today that the evidence of Cravens' conduct and his mental state satisfied the elements of implied malice.

"Today's Supreme Court ruling holds a murderer accountable for his crime and restores justice for Emery Kauanui, his family and friends," said San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. "The Attorney General's Office did an outstanding job arguing this case to the Supreme Court and our office is grateful for their work to uphold Seth Cravens' conviction."

Writing for the majority, Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvin R. Baxter said, "The Court of Appeal not only failed to acknowledge that the fatal blow here was a sucker punch (or that it was inflicted with enough force to knock Kauanui unconscious before he even hit the pavement), but failed as well to grapple with the evidence tending to show defendant's pattern of using sucker punches to his advantage."

Cravens was convicted in late 2008 in Kauanui's May 2007 death and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The defendant was also convicted of assault and battery in connection with violent acts dating back to 2005 and unrelated to Kauanui's death.

At sentencing, prosecutor Sophia Roach said Cravens' conduct showed a course of "brutal and wanton violence."

Defense attorney Mary Ellen Attridge argued at trial that Cravens acted in self-defense when he punched Kauanui and was not guilty of murder or voluntary manslaughter.

Attridge said Cravens, who is right-handed, punched Kauanui once with his left hand when the 24-year-old victim got up from a one-on-one fight with Eric House.

The victim's girlfriend, Jennifer Grosso, testified that Kauanui had been losing the fight with House when Cravens walked up and hit him, causing Kauanui to fall back and crack his skull on the pavement.

Attridge also contended that prosecutor failed to prove the fight represented a group beating on Kauanui by House, Cravens, Hank Hendricks, Orlando Osuna and Matthew Yanke.

House, Osuna, Hendricks and Yanke pleaded guilty to lesser charges and were sentenced to jail time.

Osuna, House and Yanke later violated probation and were each sent to prison for three years.

The defendants were originally charged with being part of a loosely-knit gang called the "Bird Rock Bandits," but a judge ruled that not to be the case.

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