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Murder Suspect to Be Tried as Juvenile

Court: Prosecutors drop attempt to have 14-year-old charged as an adult with three others in homeless man's beating death.

January 31, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 14-year-old Ventura boy charged with murder in the beating death of a homeless man will not be tried as an adult.

Ventura County prosecutors told a judge Wednesday they are abandoning an earlier push to move the case to adult court, where Rocky Mattley would have faced tougher penalties if convicted.

The youth is one of four teens accused of kicking and throwing stones at homeless veteran James Clark, 58, as he lay in his sleeping bag at a Ventura River encampment.

"It is the right thing to do for many reasons," Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox said. "I believe the juvenile system works in certain cases and I think Rocky is the kind of kid who should be dealt with in Juvenile Court."

Fox said prosecutors considered the defendant's age, family background and his level of participation in the crime before reaching the decision.

She also said the youth's defense lawyers provided some information that tended to mitigate his role in the slaying.

"We took a long hard look at him as a human being, and not every juvenile should be prosecuted in adult court," Fox said.

Deputy Public Defender Howard Asher praised prosecutors for their decision to let the case remain in Juvenile Court. He declined to comment further on the case.

If convicted of murder in a juvenile proceeding, Mattley could be held in state custody until his 25th birthday.

Ventura residents Timothy Becker, 18, Robert Coffman and Christopher Dunham, both 19, each faces robbery and murder charges--and potential life sentences--for his alleged role in Clark's killing on June 29.

Becker, Coffman and Dunham are scheduled to appear in Ventura County Superior Court today for a preliminary hearing.

The court hearing, however, is expected to be postponed because the county medical examiner, who was expected to testify, will not be available.

Clark was killed at his encampment next to the Ventura River. He had lived on the streets for two decades.

Authorities say the teens were partying near the beach when they came upon Clark and stole some of his belongings.

Later, authorities say, the teens pelted Clark with rocks and kicked him repeatedly in the head as he lay in his sleeping bag.

Authorities suspect the slaying was done for fun.

The teenagers each face 25 years to life in prison if convicted of murder and two to six years in prison if found guilty of robbery. They have denied the charges.

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