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Charge filed against teen accused of punching, killing soccer referee

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Posted at 7:07 AM, May 08, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-08 16:27:12-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Salt Lake County prosecutors filed a third-degree felony homicide by assault charge against a 17-year-old boy accused of punching a soccer referee, which ultimately led to the man's death.

Prosecutors also filed a motion with the Third District Juvenile Court to certify the teen as an adult, pushing the case into district court. FOX 13 is not identifying the teen, since he is a juvenile, unless he is certified by a judge as an adult.

The teen is accused of punching Ricardo Portillo, 46, during an April 27 soccer game in Taylorsville. According to charging documents, witnesses reporting seeing Portillo give the teen a yellow-card during the game. In response, the teen "punch(ed) Mr. Portillo in the rear jaw area with a closed fist."

[Read the charging documents here (PDF)]

Portillo complained of pain in his face and back, prosecutors wrote in charging documents. He spit up blood and was transported to a hospital by ambulance, police said. At the hospital, his condition worsened and he went into a coma. Charging documents stated Portillo's injuries were a "subarachnoid hemmorhage and traumatic brain injury."

Portillo died on Saturday after being taken off life support. The state medical examiner told prosecutors that "Mr. Portillo died as a result of injuries related to the blow to his head and his death was a homicide."

The teen was arrested two days after Portillo was attacked and has been incarcerated in a juvenile detention facility. He was scheduled to have a hearing before a juvenile court judge on Wednesday, but it was postponed while defense attorneys seek to have his hearings closed to the public and news media.

In an interview with FOX 13 on Wednesday, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill explained why he chose the third-degree felony homicide by assault charge.

"There was no intent to kill," he said. "We didn't see it based on the evidence presented to us."

Under Utah law, certain crimes (like aggravated murder) can get a teen directly charged as an adult. Other aggravating crimes, such as attempted murder, robbery or sexual assault, can be certified under the Serious Youth Offender Act.

But in cases like this, a juvenile court judge must ultimately decide if the teen should go into the adult system. Clayton Simms, a criminal defense attorney who has represented juvenile defendants who have been certified as adults, said the process can take months. The teen's criminal history (if any) is taken into account, as is his family background and educational history; a psychological assessment is done and experts will report to the court if they believe the teen would be better rehabilitated in the juvenile system or if adult prison is better.

"He's looking at a charge with a maximum five years," said Simms. "So in this particular case, if he's held until age 21, there's not much difference between the juvenile and the adult system because of the way he's been charged."

Gill acknowledged that under Utah law -- if Portillo had lived -- the teen would have likely faced more serious charges than homicide by assault.

"I pull out a stick and shake it at you and take $20 from you, I can get you into the adult system. But I have a loss of life? Maybe not," Gill told FOX 13. "So that's where the question becomes, 'Where is the manner of justice and how do we get there?'"

Aggravated assault typically carries a 1-15 year sentence in the Utah State Prison. Homicide by assault has a zero-to-five year sentence, if one is convicted.

Speaking to FOX 13 at the memorial service for her uncle, Elena Lopez said she believed the charge was not enough.

"I don't think it's fair what that guy is going to get -- because he killed someone," she said. "Five years is not enough."