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Prep student may be tried as adult in attack on girl

Beverly Hills teenager is charged with attempted murder, assault in the May 14 beating with a hammer of a classmate at Harvard-Westlake.

June 07, 2007|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office on Wednesday moved to try a 17-year-old Harvard-Westlake School student as an adult in the highly publicized beating last month of a female classmate.

In a felony complaint filed in Van Nuys Superior Court, prosecutors charged Rupert Tumin Ditsworth of Beverly Hills with attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly beating Elizabeth Barcay, 18, with a claw hammer.

Ditsworth had earlier been charged in Juvenile Court, but prosecutors withdrew that case. Ditsworth's attorney, Patrick Smith, has asked for a hearing before the Juvenile Court judge to fight charging him as an adult, according to Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney.

Smith could not be reached for comment.

Ditsworth, who was not publicly identified until the court filing Wednesday, was taken by his parents to a psychiatric hospital for treatment immediately after the May 14 assault, which left Barcay with a broken leg and a broken nose, police said. Barcay's mother, Barbara Hayden, said in an earlier interview that her daughter was struck 40 times and that her scalp was split.

Late Wednesday, Hayden said she strongly supported the district attorney's decision to try her daughter's alleged attacker as an adult. "It was a completely unprovoked attack," she said. "He wasn't a boyfriend, and he was barely an acquaintance. The fact is, he is a danger not only to her but the community."

Robison said the decision to shift the case to Superior Court was "based on the seriousness of the injuries to the victim and after further review of the facts."

While the prosecution of juveniles as adults was once uncommon, the trend toward tougher punishment and the approval by California voters of Proposition 21 seven years ago paved the way for more youths to be tried as adults by putting the decision to prosecute with district attorneys rather than judges.

In Los Angeles County, more than 400 juveniles were tried as adults in 2005 and 2006, and that pace has continued in the first six months of this year, according to statistics provided by the district attorney's office. The number represents a small percentage of the Juvenile Court petitions filed annually by the district attorney's office -- more than 10,000 so far this year.

"Up until Proposition 21 passed, if you wanted to see juveniles prosecuted in the adult system, they had to first go through Juvenile Court," said Cyn Yamashiro, executive director of the Center for Juvenile Law and Policy at Loyola Law School. "But Prop. 21 gave that authority to prosecutors, and that was a huge event."

According to Los Angeles police, the teenagers had gone for a drive in the boy's 2000 Jaguar after school. They were sitting in the parked sedan in Studio City about 5 p.m., when Ditsworth allegedly began talking about suicide and repeatedly struck the girl with the hammer.

Hayden told The Times last month that the pair drove to Jamba Juice after they had finished taking an Advanced Placement exam at the school, which is widely considered one of the nation's most prestigious college-prep schools. Once they got back in the car, Ditsworth reportedly grabbed his backpack from the back seat and placed it on his seat.

He then pulled out the hammer and began striking Barcay.

He allegedly left the car and moved to the passenger door, pulling the girl out and continuing to hit and choke her. He then fled, according to police, who said a witness gave them the car's license plate number.

Barcay was discharged from the hospital days later.

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greg.krikorian@latimes.com

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