A Moorpark youth charged in the beating death of a man characterized as the town "bum" will be tried as an adult instead of a juvenile, a Ventura Superior Court judge ruled last week after an emotional two-day hearing attended by dozens of the teen-ager's friends and relatives.
The case of 17-year-old Billy Cardiel has become a celebrated cause in Moorpark, a city of 25,000 where he was a popular Moorpark High School student and where his parents lived all their lives.
In announcing her ruling, Judge Barbara A. Lane acknowledged that Cardiel had no criminal record and said she agreed with the teen-ager's defense attorney and he lacked sophistication, one of the yardsticks by which status, whether adult or juvenile, is judged.
But Lane said she was swayed by the crime's heinous nature, particularly a coroner's testimony that the victim, Chester Lawson, 59, suffered "at least six, perhaps more" blows to the head--the majority delivered after he was lying flat on the ground--and two broken ribs.
Lane also compared Lawson's age, size and drunken condition to Cardiel's youth and fitness, and questioned why Cardiel didn't simply leave the scene if he felt threatened, as he had testified.
Lawson was killed on the night of July 13 after a confrontation with Cardiel and his friend, Andy Amavisca, 19. The youths had been drinking beer in a vacant lot that Lawson was paid to guard.
"This man was a doddering, not-all-there man," Lane remarked, in apparent response to Cardiel's contention that he acted in his and Amavisca's defense.
Cardiel sat stiffly as the judge spoke, but appeared to fight back tears when he hugged his mother and father before being returned to the Ventura County juvenile detention center, where he has been held since his arrest Aug. 28.
Outside the courtroom, his mother, Yvonne, and a number of friends and relatives wept and hugged each other. William Cardiel Sr. testified during the hearing that community support for their son has been overwhelming. A family friend said during a recess that more than $4,000 has been raised so far for Cardiel's defense fund.
Cardiel is scheduled to be arraigned in Ventura Municipal Court today.
Deputy Dist. Atty. James Irving said Cardiel probably will be charged with second-degree murder, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of 15 years to life in state prison. Had he been tried and convicted as a juvenile, Cardiel could have been held in a state youth detention facility only until he was 25.
Lane set bail at $250,000, but Cardiel's attorney, Charles R. English of Santa Monica said he may ask the court to lower it.
English said Lane did not seem to appreciate how dangerous Lawson was. A number of witnesses testified about violent or hostile encounters with Lawson, who was arrested for attacking a grocery store clerk weeks before his death. He was threatening Cardiel and Amavisca with a pitchfork when he was killed.