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Alien Teen Gets Lengthy Sentence in Actor's Death

June 03, 1986|JIM SCHACHTER | Times Staff Writer

The teen-age illegal alien who stabbed actor David Oliver Huffman last year in Balboa Park was sentenced Monday to a term of 26 years to life in prison for murdering the good Samaritan.

The sentence imposed on Genaro Villanueva, a 17-year-old Mexican, by San Diego County Superior Court Judge Norbert Ehrenfreund was slightly short of the maximum punishment requested by the actor's widow, Phyllis Huffman, for the killing and a series of burglaries.

She told the court her 10-year-old son still expects, someday, to get a phone call saying his father is alive. Her 7-year-old son, at times, simply holds a picture of his father, unable to talk about his death, she said.

Villanueva's family said he was under suicide watch at Juvenile Hall, where he has been held pending his transfer to state custody.

Huffman, 40, surprised Villanueva as the San Diego High School student was burglarizing an elderly Canadian couple's motor home in a parking lot at Balboa Park on Feb. 27, 1985. The actor, who was appearing in a play at the Old Globe Theatre, chased Villanueva into Palm Canyon, where they scuffled.

Villanueva stabbed Huffman five times with a screwdriver; a group of schoolchildren on a nature walk found his body later in the day.

"David was so right in what he was doing," Phyllis Huffman told Ehrenfreund during the sentencing, "and the defendant was so wrong in what he was doing."

Deputy Public Defender Allan Williams argued that Villanueva's first-degree murder conviction should be reduced to second-degree murder, contending that the facts of the case were less heinous than others in which such reductions were ordered.

Williams also had asked that the youth, who confessed to the killing and was tried as an adult, be placed in the custody of the California Youth Authority--a decision that would have freed Villanueva to be deported to Mexico when he turned 25.

"A sentence to first-degree murder is 10 years longer than he's lived," Williams said.

His pleas were countered by the recommendations of the Youth Authority, a county probation officer and Deputy Dist. Atty. Harry Elias, who contended that Villanueva had demonstrated an inclination toward violence in a string of auto burglaries and little susceptibility to rehabilitation.

Elias asked Ehrenfreund to consider the message his sentence would send to other citizens who, like Huffman, thought to help others in need.

"Society has long looked for people to do what he did, because we haven't for so long. We sit and go by and ignore, and nothing happens," Elias said. "Some consideration has to be paid for people who try to help other people, for people who try to do the right thing."

Elias called on the judge to impose a 25-year-to-life term for the first-degree murder conviction, with an extra year for Villanueva's use of a deadly weapon in the crime. The prosecutor asked that an additional three years be tacked onto the end of the sentence for a separate break-in earlier on the day of the killing.

Villanueva made only a brief statement on his own behalf.

"I'm very remorseful," he said in Spanish and translated by a court interpreter. "If the Lord and judge will forgive me . . . you should be just toward me, Your Honor. That is all."

Ehrenfreund stuck closely to the prosecutor's recommendation. He imposed the 26-year-to-life sentence for murder. But rather than add three years, he extended the sentence by four months for an attempted burglary Feb. 1, 1985. He also imposed three concurrent sentences for the other burglary and resisting arrest charges. He directed that Villanueva initially be held in a Youth Authority facility.

In pronouncing sentence, Ehrenfreund drew a contrast between the killer and his victim.

"This was a defendant willing to take another person's life simply to avoid an arrest for this burglary," the judge said of Villanueva. He quoted a Youth Authority social worker's write-up of an interview with Villanueva: "There was no conscious conscience, no feelings, no morals, to get in the way of Genaro's stabbing the victim five times repeatedly."

Ehrenfreund called Huffman a "good Samaritan" who was "totally vulnerable" to attack.

"Here was a citizen," he said, "willing to be involved, willing to endanger himself, to help two older persons."

Three of Villanueva's brothers, who speak little English, sat silently with a friend through the two-hour hearing.

Afterward, the eldest brother, Armando Villanueva, 34, said the family wished it had more of an opportunity to dispute the Youth Authority's conclusion that Genaro showed no remorse for the killing.

"My brother is not a bad person," he said through an interpreter. "He made a mistake. . . . It's something he has to live with for the rest of his life."

Genaro Villanueva came to San Diego in the fall of 1984 to live with five of his brothers--all illegal aliens from Mexico City--near downtown San Diego. The brothers in the United States work, sending money to their parents and seven more siblings in Mexico, Armando Villanueva said.

"Mexico is very poor," he said. "There is no opportunity." But Armando Villanueva said his brother was not breaking into vans to get money for his family. His family did not know, the brother said, why Genaro was commiting crimes.

But the brothers did have an idea why he ran when Huffman found him in the Canadians' motor home.

"People who are illegal in this country run all the time, because they know they're going to be deported," Armando Villanueva said.

Phyllis Huffman said she was satisfied with the sentence imposed by Ehrenfreund. "Very much so," she said.

Asked why she chose to speak out in court, she said: "That was for David. I had to do that for David."

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