Surfer Death: Witness says he heard stomps


A neighbor of a professional surfer who died after being punched during a fight in La Jolla testified today that he heard the sounds of stomping and kicking and ran outside to find his friend on the ground with his skull cracked open.

Thomas Corona, 21, who took the stand on the second day of Seth Cravens’ murder trial, said he was watching television in his living room around 1:30 a.m. on May 24, 2007, when he heard Emery Kauanui’s girlfriend, Jenny Grosso, screaming.

“She was saying, Get off of him,’’’ Corona testified.(She said),Seth, get off of him. Seth, please stop. Get off of him.’’’

Cravens, 22, is charged with second-degree murder for punching the 24- year-old victim in the head after Kauanui and another man, Eric House, fought in front of the victim’s mother’s home in La Jolla.

Kauanui died at a hospital four days later.

Three other La Jolla men - Orlando Osuna, Hank Hendricks and Matthew Yanke -- piled into a car with Cravens and House to fight Kauanui after Kauanui spilled a drink on House at the nearby La Jolla Brew House, according to prosecutors.

Osuna, Hendricks, Yanke and House - part of a group of La Jolla High graduates called the Bird Rock Bandits - were charged with murder but pleaded guilty to lesser charges in connection with Kauanui’s death and were sentenced to local time in custody.

In addition to the murder count, Cravens faces charges of assault, battery and making a criminal threat in connection with several other unrelated incidents dating back to 2005.

Corona, who has been boxing for 11 years, testified that the stomping and hitting that he heard from his home the night Kauanui was injured was “very rapid.’’

The witness said he recognized Yanke’s voice and heard him saying, “Get him, get him! Hit him!’’ during the fight, which he said lasted about two to three minutes.

Corona said the voices he heard were frantic and violent “in a manner that was disturbing, completely.’’

The witness said he threw on some clothes and ran onto the street, only to find his friend on the ground.

“I saw Emery laying there on the corner (of Draper Avenue and Genter Street) with his head cracked open on the back,’’ Corona testified. “There was blood everywhere.’’

Another neighbor, Phillip Baltazar, testified that he saw a man hit Kauanui when he got up from the fight.

“Someone who was wearing a black baseball cap, a black opened shirt ... short-sleeved shirt ... black shorts, black shoes and white socks came flying out from there and cold-cocked Emery, and that’s when he went down onto the ground,’’ Baltazar testified.

Defense attorney Mary Ellen Attridge said in her opening statement Monday 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,’’ she said.

The attorney said Kauanui and the others involved had been drinking heavily at the 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 Grosso, either spilled or poured a drink on House, sparking a brief confrontation.

All of the participants in the fight that night 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. The victim’s blood-alcohol level was later measured at .17 percent, and he had smoked marijuana that night, Attridge said.

The attorney said House and Kauanui had stupidly argued about who was more local to the area.

Once Kauanui was driven home by 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.

“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.

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.’’

Cravens faces 15 years to life in prison if convicted of murder. His trial is expected to last three weeks in the courtroom of Judge John Einhorn.