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VENTURA COUNTY

Witness Can't ID Defendant as His Stabber

Courts: Testimony begins in trial of Oak View resident also accused of helping to kill a homeless man near the Ventura River.

October 01, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Standing shirtless before a jury Monday, a 21-year-old man pointed to scars on his back and arms to show where he was stabbed during a violent confrontation with three teens at Ventura's beachfront promenade last year.

Daniel McGrath removed his shirt and turned his bare back to the jury after describing how he was stabbed four times while walking with his pregnant ex-girlfriend. McGrath identified defendant Robert Coffman as one of the attackers but could not say whether Coffman wielded the knife.

Coffman, a 19-year-old Oak View resident, is charged with attempted murder in the July 1, 2001, assault. He is also charged with murder in connection with the fatal beating of a homeless man on the same stretch of beach the night before.

Defense attorneys concede that Coffman was involved in the two incidents, but they contend his role was less than what prosecutors allege.

Testimony in Coffman's trial got underway Monday, and McGrath was one of the first witnesses called to the stand. He told jurors that three months before the stabbing, he was threatened by 15-year-old Kenny Valentine, who mistakenly suspected him of showing disrespect to an elderly family member.

McGrath testified that on the night of July 1, Valentine saw him on the promenade with his ex-girlfriend and confronted him, saying to his friends, "This is the one that was talking trash about my grandmother."

McGrath said he tried to explain to Valentine that there was a misunderstanding but Coffman slapped him. McGrath said he was later knocked to the ground, he thought by Valentine, and then stabbed.

On cross-examination, McGrath acknowledged that he had never seen Coffman before and was unable to pick him out of a police photo lineup. He was unable to identify the third teen. He also admitted that he previously identified Valentine as the likely stabber.

In other testimony Monday, county Medical Examiner Ronald O'Halloran said that the homeless man found beaten near the beach on the morning of June 30, 2001, died from multiple blows to the head.

Prosecutors contend that 58-year-old James Clark, a military veteran who camped in an area near the mouth of the Ventura River known as Hobo Jungle, was kicked, beaten and stoned by four teens, including Coffman, as they walked to a beach party and bonfire.

Two maintenance workers found Clark dead in his sleeping bag the morning after the assault, according to court testimony.

Autopsy results indicate Clark sustained a fractured skull, a crushed kidney, a broken rib and numerous bruises and abrasions. At death, the 5-foot, 6-inch man weighed 123 pounds, including his clothes and sleeping bag.

O'Halloran was unable to pinpoint which blows came first or whether they were caused by rocks, boots or a marijuana pipe found at the scene. However, he said, autopsy results suggest the kidney wound occurred some time after the head injuries and possibly during a separate assault.

Testimony is scheduled to resume Wednesday.

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