William Randall Hurtt was cooking breakfast in his Baldwin Park apartment one February morning last year when his girlfriend's 2-year-old son soiled himself and began to cry.
Shelving his meal for a moment, Hurtt bathed the boy and changed his pants. But young Caesar Reyes would not stop crying.
By then, according to police and court records, the 29-year-old Hurtt had had enough. In an angry outburst, the records show, he delivered a single barefoot kick to Caesar's midsection that tore the boy's liver nearly in half and killed him.
Originally charged with murder, Hurtt pleaded no contest in Pomona Superior Court in January to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter.
Although the district attorney's office recommended a state prison term ranging from three to 11 years, Superior Court Judge Sam Cianchetti last month placed Hurtt on five years' probation, ordered him to spend one year in Los Angeles County jail and pay $6,700 to the boy's mother.
Since then, Cianchetti's decision has caused a public outcry from some San Gabriel Valley residents, county prosecutors and the investigating police officer over what they say was an unusually lenient punishment for a tragic crime.
Irate letters to Cianchetti have called the judge "a black-robed pervert." Other residents accused him of mocking justice. A local newspaper urged him to resign.
"I think the judge made a mistake," said Robert Johnson, head deputy district attorney in Pomona. "I think he was unquestionably wrong."
But Cianchetti, a 18-year veteran of the bench, has stood by his decision.
He wrote a letter to District Atty. Ira Reiner accepting full responsibility for the sentence. He sent another letter to the publisher of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune denouncing as "questionable journalism" the call for his resignation on the basis of one case. And he drafted a form letter defending his position in response to the angry mail he has received.
"These decisions are never made lightly or casually," Cianchetti said in an interview. "I gave that case a lot of thought. Future events may indicate that I was wrong. But it's my sincere belief that's not going to be the situation. . . . I don't ever think I'll see this kid in court again."
Hurtt's attorney, Gary W. Meastas, who refused to let Hurtt be interviewed, said he believed the judge handed down an appropriate sentence.
"Anytime you have a child killed, that raises some emotions and gets people's attention," Meastas said. "I'm just disappointed because it seems to me that people are making judgments without knowing all the information the court took into consideration at the time of sentencing."
Hurtt's family, who declined to be interviewed, responded with a brief written statement. "Throughout these proceedings and during the jail term Randy will ultimately serve, this family will stand behind him," it reads, in part.
"Nothing has been more devastating to the family and we can only hope to put it behind us. Randy, however, never will."
Hurtt, a certified welder and handyman with no criminal record, was arrested on suspicion of murder at the Baldwin Park Police Station on Feb. 4, 1986, the day after Caesar Reyes was declared dead at Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina.
Summoned to Station
According to Sgt. Mike Bumcrot of the Los Angeles County sheriff's homicide division, Hurtt was summoned to the station after the county medical examiner-coroner had determined that the child died from "multiple injuries due to blunt force trauma."
Besides the ripped liver, the coroner's office reported that the child had 20 to 30 bruises on his body, most of which were determined to be less than 24 hours old. The coroner said the bruises could have resulted from being hit, squeezed or grasped, but no conclusion was reached on what caused them.
"He made a complete confession," Bumcrot said. "I think he was real scared, probably somewhat remorseful, and wanted to talk."
At the station, Hurtt described how the child, who had been left in his care that morning by his live-in girlfriend, Veronica Azalia Martinez, had defecated and begun to cry, Bumcrot said.
Angered, Hurtt kicked the boy and then returned to the kitchen where he had been preparing breakfast. A few minutes later, he found the child lying on the floor in a semiconscious state, Bumcrot said. Before police arrived, Hurtt had already called paramedics and tried to telephone the child's mother.
"That demonstrated to me that there was no intent to kill," said Hurtt's attorney, Meastas. "He had a deep concern for the child. He felt absolutely terrible about what had happened."
Martinez could not be reached for comment.
On Meastas' advice, Hurtt pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder at a preliminary hearing on June 5, 1986, at Citrus Municipal Court in West Covina.