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Prosecutors weighing charges in soccer referee's death

By Andrew Adams and Sandra Yi | Posted - May 6, 2013 at 9:21 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — Prosecutors will begin reviewing evidence surrounding the death of a local soccer referee who passed away after being assaulted by a 17-year-old player.

Prosecutors could decide whether to press murder or other charges against the teen in adult court.

Ricardo Portillo, 46, died late Saturday night after being in a coma for several days. He was officiating a game on April 27 and issued a yellow card during the game, penalizing a 17-year-old player. The player punched Portillo in the head, police said.

The suspect has been booked into juvenile detention on suspicion of aggravated assault.

Legal analyst Tanya Lewis explained that in Utah, prosecutors have discretion whether to charge a 16- or 17-year-old as an adult without a hearing in juvenile court. Lewis said determining factors include the seriousness of the crime.

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She said prosecutors also may look at prior convictions, allegations and behavior.

"Is this a good kid who just made a terrible mistake one day?" Lewis said. "There's a variety of factors, and they're going to look at all of those things. They're also going to consider justice for the victim's family and for the victim, too."

The teen already faces the prospect of an aggravated assault charge in juvenile court. If he is charged as an adult, several charges are possible, Lewis said.

  • Homicide by assault
    "That is when an assault occurs and the victim passes away. That's typically in a case such as this. It appears where there were unintended consequences; this is not what the teenager desired to have happen. So that's one option," Lewis said.
  • Felony murder
    "I don't think that's very likely here," Lewis said. "You would have to show that this teenager did things that constituted a depraved indifference to life. This is usually reserved for very heinous crimes."
  • Manslaughter
    "The prosecution would have to show that the teen acted recklessly," Lewis explained.

She said facing charges as an adult would be very different from appearing in juvenile court, because the rules are very different.

"Cases are typically closed (in juvenile court)," Lewis said. "Media does not have a right to be there. Cases typically are sealed and the punishments are much more lenient than you would find in adult court."

The district attorney is expected to decide on any possible charges for the soccer player Tuesday morning.

A bill allowing for heavier penalties in cases of homicide by assault passed in Utah 1995, six years after the death of 18-year-old Malik Smith.

Smith died after being punched by John Leota in the face at a West Valley nightclub. Leota was convicted of misdemeanor negligent homicide and was sentenced to a year in jail: a punishment Smith's parents who are well-known in Hollywood, had considered a slap on the wrist.

A more recent case made headlines too. In February, a judge sentenced Benjamin Hawkins to three months in jail for involuntary manslaughter.

Hawkins was in a Las Vegas strip casino bathroom when he and a Utah man, John Massie, got into a confrontation. Hawkins threw the punch that killed Massie.

"These types of cases where you have an assault that ultimately leads to the death of an individual are rare, but they do happen," Lewis said. "They're always tough cases for everyone involved."

In 2002, a bill that would have enhanced criminal penalties for attacking a sports official failed in the Utah legislature.

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Andrew Adams
    Sandra Yi

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