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Oak View Teen Admits Kicking Transient

Court: Statements are heard on videotape during trial of 19-year-old accused in beating death of homeless man.

October 05, 2002|SANDRA MURILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Oak View teenager accused of beating a homeless man to death admitted kicking and throwing pebbles at "the bum" in a police videotape shown to jurors Friday.

"I had no intention of really hurting him," defendant Robert Coffman, 19, said during the video, recorded by detectives a few days after the June 30, 2001, slaying.

Coffman is one of four teens accused of fatally beating James Clark, 58, as the youths headed to a Ventura beach party last year. All four defendants, ages 14 to 19, are charged with robbery and murder. The youngest was convicted earlier this year.

The three other defendants told police that Coffman was the ringleader that night.

On the videotape, Coffman portrayed himself as a peripheral player in the assault on Clark. He accused defendant Timothy John Becker of striking Clark on the head with a marijuana pipe as the transient coughed and choked on his own blood.

According to Coffman, the group happened upon Clark as the teens were chasing each other on their bicycles near the Ventura River bottom.

"We thought it'd be fun to throw rocks at him," Coffman said on the police video. "He chased us.... We were having fun."

The boys ran from Clark until one of them realized the marijuana pipe Coffman had sold to Becker was missing. They ran back to where the homeless man was sleeping and started arguing over the pipe, Coffman said.

At that point, Coffman said, they all began kicking Clark until he was coughing and spitting blood.

"I kicked him a couple of times, I ain't gonna lie," Coffman said. "I kicked him in the head, but then I asked him if he was all right."

Clark tried to sit up, but Becker hit him on the head with the pipe, Coffman said.

"He laid halfway back and started coughing and choking," Coffman said. "Tim took it way out of hand."

Coffman said he was upset at Becker for breaking his pipe.

In the video, he said he asked Clark if he was OK.

"I heard the bum moaning ... so I didn't think he was dead," Coffman said.

Coffman said he overheard Becker and defendant Christopher Dunham talking later that night about hitting Clark on the head with "a big old rock."

The video was taped while Coffman was in custody for allegedly stabbing Daniel McGrath, 19, at the Ventura beach promenade a day after Clark's slaying.

In the video, Coffman began sobbing when he realized he was a suspect in Clark's slaying.

"I'm scared, man!" Coffman cried. "I wanna see my mom and my girlfriend ... I'm scared!"

In other testimony Friday, Dan Swanson, a gang investigator for the Ventura Police Department, testified about skinhead ideology. Swanson said homeless people, especially those who are white, are seen as worthless human beings to members of such hate groups.

"Skinheads look at [the] homeless as a lesser human being--particularly white homeless," Swanson said. "They look at them as a wasted white person."

He said it is common for members of hate groups to participate in "boot parties," in which a group of skinheads kicks a person while down.

He testified he believes Coffman to be a racist skinhead.

Coffman's defense attorneys countered by calling two of Coffman's childhood friends to the stand. Brothers Lonnie and Joseph Stanford, who are half black and half white, lived with Coffman and his family for nearly a year. They even shared a room, the brothers said.

Both consider the Coffmans as family, they testified.

"I still call her mom to this very day," Joseph Stanford said of Coffman's mother. "[Coffman's] pretty much like a brother to me."

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