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Guilty Plea Entered in Slaying

Ventura County

Timothy Becker, 19, is the last of four defendants convicted for the fatal beating of homeless veteran James Clark in Ventura.

November 05, 2002|Tracy Wilson | Times Staff Writer

A Ventura teen pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Monday for participating in the beachside slaying of a homeless man last year.

Timothy Becker, 19, faces a minimum of 15 years in state prison for kicking and beating homeless veteran James Clark, 58, as Clark lay in a sleeping bag near a popular surf spot in Ventura.

Defense attorney Philip Capritto said Becker "is accepting responsibility for his actions, and he is ready to go to prison for his punishment."

Becker is the last of four defendants to either be convicted or plead guilty to the crime.

A jury found Oak View resident Robert Coffman, 20, guilty of first-degree murder last month for deliberately assaulting Clark. He faces 25 years to life in prison when sentenced next week.

Christopher Dunham, 19, of Ventura pleaded guilty to second-degree murder a week after Coffman was convicted. He also faces 15 years to life in prison when sentenced Jan. 7.

Rocky Mattley, 15, of Ventura, was convicted of second-degree murder in Juvenile Court earlier this year. He is serving a sentence at the California Youth Authority.

"This was a highly successful prosecution," Deputy Dist. Atty. Stacy Ratner said Monday. "All four defendants were convicted of murder. In terms of Mr. Clark, hopefully now he can rest in peace knowing that these people who did this to him did not get away with it."

According to Ventura police, the four teens stumbled over Clark while headed to a beach party near Surfers Point the night of June 30.

They allegedly stole some of Clark's belongings, then returned to his encampment where they kicked him, stomped on his head and threw rocks at him. Clark died of multiple injuries, including a crushed kidney, a broken rib and a possible skull fracture.

Ratner said prosecutors had a strong case against Becker.

All four teens admitted to assaulting "a bum" during police interviews and implicated each other during talks with detectives.

Ratner said prosecutors also had evidence that Becker struck Clark in the head with a marijuana bong. Becker's blood, which police suspect came from a cut to his finger, was found on the bong and on a rock found near Clark's body.

Capritto, who was recently appointed as Becker's lawyer, said his client has no prior criminal record and got caught up with the wrong crowd. He said Becker knew going to trial would be futile and decided it would be better to spare the victim's family from further court proceedings.

Becker is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 13.

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