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3 Teenagers Plead Not Guilty in Homeless Man's Fatal Beating

Court: Prosecutors will attempt next week to try a fourth suspect, a juvenile, as an adult.

July 25, 2001|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three teenagers accused of bludgeoning a homeless man to death as he slept near the Ventura River bottom pleaded not guilty on Tuesday in Ventura County Superior Court.

Robert Allen Coffman, Timothy John Becker and Christopher Michael Dunham, all 18, were charged with murder in the June 29 beating death of James Richard Clark, 58.

The district attorney's office also has charged Rocky Mattley, 14, with murder in the case. He will appear in juvenile court Aug. 1, when prosecutors will seek permission to try him as an adult. He is being held at Ventura County Juvenile Hall.

The three charged Tuesday are being held at Ventura County Jail, Coffman in lieu of $1-million bail, Becker and Dunham in lieu of $500,000 bail each.

Authorities say Clark, an Army veteran and former sheet-metal worker, had lived in the Ventura River bottom for nearly two decades and was a well-known figure who tried to stay out of trouble.

Police said the teenagers were partying at a popular homeless camp along the river on June 29 when they came upon Clark. Clark's body was found the next morning in a clump of bushes. An autopsy revealed he had died from blows to the head.

News of Clark's death outraged many in the homeless community and shopkeepers along Ventura Avenue, where he regularly roamed looking for spare change or food. His funeral earlier this month drew more than 75 friends and family members.

The teenagers were arrested shortly after Coffman was picked up by authorities for allegedly stabbing another man, Daniel McGrath, 19, on July 1.

Coffman, Becker and Dunham are scheduled to return to court on Sept. 17 for a preliminary hearing.

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