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Ventura County

Police Tape Played for Jury

Trial: Witness testifies she can't recall, but in a recorded interview she told authorities murder defendant talked of beating homeless man.

October 04, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Oak View teenager charged with murder told friends that after participating in a mob beating of a homeless man, he returned and kicked the transient in the head as he lay wounded in his sleeping bag, according to testimony.

Robert Coffman, 19, told one friend that he asked the man: "Do you want a deeper sleep?" before stomping on his face, according to testimony in Coffman's trial Thursday.

Coffman is one of four teens accused of fatally beating and robbing homeless veteran James Clark, 58, as they headed to a beach party last year.

All four defendants, ages 14 to 19, were charged with robbery and murder. The youngest was convicted earlier this year.

On Thursday, jurors in Coffman's trial heard testimony about comments he allegedly made two days after the June 30, 2001, slaying.

A girl, now 16, told police that Coffman described the assault on Clark to her and other friends as they sat in front of a west Ventura apartment complex where the boys often hung out.

"He told us he'd beaten him," said Monique Gonzalez, according to a tape-recorded interview. "He kicked him in the head, he stomped him in the face."

Gonzalez told Ventura Police Det. Russell Robinson that Coffman, Rocky Mattley, Timothy Becker and Christopher Dunham beat the transient and threw rocks at him, according to the recording.

Coffman told her he later approached Clark, who was bleeding and snoring, and asked him, "You want a deeper sleep?"

He then kicked Clark again and stomped on his face, Gonzalez told police.

In the interview, she also said that the boys robbed Clark after the beating, or in her words, "They jacked the bum."

Called as a witness Thursday, Gonzalez testified that she could not recall any statements Coffman made to her after the slaying, nor could she remember any statements she made during the July 12 interview with Robinson.

She denied being threatened or persuaded not to testify, insisting she was telling the truth.

Moments after Gonzalez stepped off the stand, Deputy Dist. Atty. Stacy Ratner called Robinson as a witness and played the tape-recorded interview for the jury.

On Wednesday, Monique Gonzalez's younger sister testified that she heard the boys talking about how they beat a homeless man.

Stephanie Gonzalez said Coffman told her he stomped and kicked the victim. She testified, "I guess he was just sort of proud of what he did."

Defense attorneys both days tried to show that the girls' statements were based on secondhand information, overheard conversations and exaggerated claims by some of the boys.

Coffman is also charged with attempted murder in the stabbing of Daniel McGrath, 19, at the Ventura beach promenade a day after Clark's slaying.

In other testimony Thursday, Ventura Police Det. Tom Radwan testified that during an interview Coffman admitted stabbing McGrath but told police he was trying to defend his friend, Kenny Valentine.

Coffman told Radwan that McGrath and Valentine, 15 at the time, got into a fight at the promenade and that he stabbed McGrath to get him off Valentine.

Earlier this week, McGrath testified that Coffman, Valentine and a third person attacked him during an argument. He told jurors he did not provoke the attack.

Testimony is scheduled to resume today in Ventura County Superior Court.

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