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Teen faces homicide charge in ref's death

by BRADY McCOMBS Associated Press on May 09, 2013 10:20 AM

SALT LAKE CITY — Family and friends honored the memory of a Utah soccer referee at an emotional funeral service Wednesday evening just hours after the teenager who punched him before he fell into a coma was charged with homicide by assault.

After an afternoon wake at a community center, a group of men carried a wooden casket with the remains of Ricardo Portillo in silence about a quarter mile to a nearby Catholic church. There, about 200 people — most wearing white shirts — listened to a funeral service conducted in Spanish.

The Rev. Javier Virgin told them that Portillo completed his life mission by sharing his talent for refereeing with hundreds of teenagers who played in games he worked. Portillo, 46, was born in Mexico, but had lived in Utah for the past 17 years.

“He reached his goal of serving others,” Virgin said in Spanish.

Earlier Wednesday, the teenager who police say punched Portillo was charged with homicide by assault, a count issued when an attack unintentionally causes death.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said he will seek to try the teen as an adult.

The charge is less serious than manslaughter. It carries a possible sentence of up to five years in prison for adults, but penalties can be less for juveniles.

Gill said it became clear in looking at the facts that the teenager’s actions didn’t amount to murder or manslaughter.

“We did not believe we could demonstrate the premeditation or intent to justify those charges,” Gill said. “Those other charges require another type of mental state. We did not believe that type of mental state was present.”

The fact that the teenager will soon turn 18, combined with the seriousness of what happened, led Gill to push to have him tried as an adult. The chance of the teen’s rehabilitation is minimal, prosecutors said in court documents. A juvenile court judge will ultimately rule on that request.

The 17-year-old, whose name is being withheld by The Associated Press because he’s a minor, has been in juvenile detention since April 27 when the incident occurred at a recreational-league soccer match in a Salt Lake City suburb.

Not much is known about the teenager, although Utah courts spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said he does not have any prior history in juvenile court.

His coach, James Yapias, has said he was playing his first game with the team but has declined to elaborate any further about the young man or his family.

Police reports and court documents paint a picture of a young man who appears to have made a fatally flawed decision in the heat of the moment.

The punch occurred after what often are the most dramatic moments of any soccer game — the issuance of a yellow card by the referee. Portillo whistled the teen for pushing an opposing player during a corner kick.

The oldest of Portillo’s three daughters, Johana Portillo, declined to comment about the charges through family spokesman Tony Yapias.

Friends and family spent Wednesday remembering Ricardo Portillo at an afternoon wake that was to be followed by an evening religious service. The wake attendees wore white T-shirts with a drawing of an orange referee jersey in the middle with the words, “In loving memory of Ricky” around a soccer ball.

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