Lone defendant to stand trial in connection with pro surfer's murder
by Neal Putnam
Published - 07/02/08 - 12:47 PM | 1343 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Seth Cravens will stand alone in his murder trial for the slaying of La Jolla professional surfer Emery Kauanui, Jr. after three friends pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter June 27 and a fourth one admitted he was an accessory after the fact.

The four face potential terms in state prison, but probation and time in county jail have not been ruled out. An all-day sentencing hearing was set for Sept. 5 by San Diego Superior Court Judge John Einhorn.

For the first time, one of the five young La Jolla men briefly spoke with reporters about the circumstances of the case in which Kauanui was beaten in front of his mother's La Jolla home on May 24, 2007, and died four days later in a hospital.

"I'm extremely sorry for what happened, and I know we all are," said Matthew Yanke, with his attorney, Kerry Steigerwalt, at his side.

Yanke, 21, also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery involving a brawl at a New Year Eve party in 2006, in which he and others known as the Bird Rock Bandits group crashed parties and assaulted people. Yanke faces a maximum term of four years and six months in state prison, according to the plea form he signed.

Orlando Sandoval Osuna, 23, also pleaded guilty to three counts of misdemeanor battery involving injuries to three people at the same party at a Mount Soledad house. Osuna faces a maximum term of five years and six months in prison, according to the form he signed.

Eric Matthew House, 21, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter only and faces up to three years in prison in a plea agreement with the District Attorney's office. The plea form he signed says he faces a maximum term of four years.

Henri "Hank" Hendricks, 22, pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact and could receive a maximum term of three years in prison. The judge said the DA's office did not oppose a reduction of the offense to a misdemeanor if he is successful on probation for two years.

Cravens, 22, will stand trial by himself on August 22. He is also charged with a number of other assaults of people at parties he crashed over the last two years.

Cravens' attorney, Mary Ellen Attridge, couldn't get a plea agreement with a prosecutor, but she said afterwards the others' pleas to involuntary manslaughter might actually help her case. Attridge said she has never felt it was a murder case.

Kauanui died from head injuries after Cravens allegedly punched him and his head hit the pavement. His skull was cracked in three places. His brain continued to swell in the hospital and he never regained consciousness.

The four who pleaded guilty are not required to testify in Cravens' trial. Deputy District Attorney Sophia Roach declined comment, as did other attorneys over whether any of the others would testify.

Lawyers for the four men unsuccessfully tried to get the judge to lift their restriction at area beaches where they might encounter surfers who knew Kauanui. "I'm not inclined...to further modify that order. That will remain in force and effect," said Einhorn.

Each defendant wrote several sentences on court documents to describe what they did in the incident, but each worded it about the same way.

Osuna wrote: "I aided and abetted Seth Cravens in an assault on Emery Kauanui which resulted in Mr. Kauanui's death by agreeing with (names of co-defendants) to go to Mr. Kauanui's house for the purpose of assaulting Mr. Kauanui with knowledge of Seth Cravens' reputation for violence."

Osuna's attorney, Fred Reich, told his client is remorseful. "He has cried. He has lost sleep. Mr. Kauanui was one of his friends," said Reich.

Hendricks' attorney, Richard Gates, won permission from the judge for Hendricks to return to New Hampshire and pick up his possessions he left behind last Sept. when he left college and was charged with murder. Gates said "his dream was to play college football and that dream is gone."

Gates said Hendricks was one of the five men outside Kauanui's house who fled after Kauanui was knocked to the ground. "He left his friend(Kauanui) behind and he didn't render any aid ... Hank knew it was the wrong thing to do," said Gates.

On his plea form, Hendricks wrote "I assisted in concealing Mr. Cravens in order to avoid arrest on the night the crime was committed."

Earlier that night, Kauanui fought with House at a La Jolla bar and poured some beer on him. Kauanui was driven home, but when the men showed up at his house, he came outside. Medical records state that Kauanui had a 0.17 blood/alcohol level when his blood was tested at the hospital.

Osuna pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery of J.B. Haskett, and his wife, Jennifer Haskett, both of Pacific Beach, who were both punched in the face at a New Year's Eve party in 2006. Yanke pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery of another guest, Logan Henry.

At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing in May, Einhorn ruled that prosecutors could not charge the other crimes as being committed by a criminal street gang. Police officers had testified they had never heard of the Bird Rock Bandits name until after Kauanui was killed. All five men are graduates of La Jolla High School. House and Yanke remain free on $1.5 million and $1 million bond respectively, while Hendricks and Osuna are each free on $500,000 bond.

Cravens was unable to post $1.5 million bail, and for the last year has lived in the George F. Bailey Detention Facility.
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