Teen charged in soccer ref’s death pleads guilty to homicide by assault

Posted at 11:04 AM, Aug 05, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY -- The teen accused of punching a soccer referee in the head, ultimately killing him, struck a surprise plea deal.

It happened just before he was to have a certification hearing in Third District Juvenile Court, where a judge would have to decide if the 17-year-old should be tried as an adult. Instead, the teen will remain in juvenile court custody until he is 21.

"I was frustrated, hit the ref and caused his death," the teen told the judge as he pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony charge of homicide by assault.

The boy is accused of punching Ricardo Portillo after the referee issued the boy a yellow card in a soccer game. That punch put Portillo in a coma, and he died a few days later.

"You took my dad away from me and my sisters," Portillo's daughter, Johana, told him in court.

Ana Portillo, another of Ricardo Portillo's daughters, told the teen: "you messed up."

"I just wish that you would have decided to take a deep breath before you did what you did," she said in court. "You have to change."

In court, the teen stood and apologized to the Portillo family. He told the grieving women that he acted "impulsively."

"I acted impulsively, childish and I have learned a lesson," he told them. "Sorry."

While she forgives him for his actions, Johana Portillo said it was too soon to accept an apology.

"We have the right to feel anger right now," she said outside of court.

In handing down a sentence, Judge Kimberly Hornak noted that the boy has no prior criminal history. He is also a good student, she said, even taking advanced placement classes. She praised the Portillos for handling things with "dignity and poise."

Deputy Salt Lake District Attorney Patricia Cassell told FOX 13 outside of court that the teen would only have faced up to five years in prison if he were convicted in adult court; instead he will remain in custody until he is 21. At that point, in the eyes of the law, his slate is wiped clean -- frustrating to the Portillos.

"People should see what he did," Ana Portillo told reporters.

"He needed to get a harsher punishment," Johana Portillo added. "But I do believe he needed a second chance, too."

In handing down the sentence, Judge Hornak made some unusual orders. She insisted he write a weekly letter to the Portillos. She also ordered a picture of Ricardo Portillo be placed in his cell in juvenile detention, "so that you have to look at him every single day and think about your actions."

Johana Portillo said she knows the photo she will send him.

"I'm happy that he's going to have a second chance. My dad didn't," she said. "I will make sure that the picture he gets, it'll be us with my dad and his grandchildren so he can wake up every day and see what he did and feel all the pain that he did to us."