Last 2 enter pleas in attack on migrant workers
Precedent-setting case nearing end
By Greg Moran
June 4, 2002
What began with a rampage through a migrant camp in Rancho Peñasquitos
neared its end in a quiet courtroom yesterday, as the last two youths
charged with attacking migrant workers entered their pleas.
Steven Deboer, 18, and Kevin Williams, 17, responded
to eight counts stemming from the beatings, including robbery and
assault and a charge that the crimes were racially motivated.
Deboer entered a plea of no contest, which carries
the same legal weight as a guilty plea. Six other defendants in the case
entered the same plea May 14.
Williams pleaded guilty. His lawyer said after the
hearing that his client wanted to take responsibility for his actions.
"He's felt bad about the situation from day one,
and he just wanted to admit what he did was wrong," said defense attorney
All of the defendants entered their pleas in Juvenile
Deboer and Williams could receive a maximum of 12 years in prison when they are sentenced July 23. They and the other defendants ? who face similar prison terms ? could also receive lesser sentences, including probation.
The pleas drew a precedent-setting case one step closer to finality.
The assault on the migrant workers on July 5, 2000, drew intense media
attention. At the time, the youths were between the ages of 14 and 17.
When prosecutors elected to charge them as adults
under newly minted powers handed them under Proposition 21, it became the
test case that challenged the constitutionality of the proposition. The
voter-approved initiative, adopted in March 2000, gave prosecutors sweeping
new power in some juvenile cases.
The prosecution was put on hold for more than a year
as the battle went all the way to the state Supreme Court, which ruled
earlier this year that the measure was constitutional.
After yesterday's hearing, prosecutor Hector Jimenez
said he was happy with all the pleas.
"Mission accomplished," he said. "We set out to prosecute
these young men as adults for the horrific crime they committed."
Prosecutors said the youths attacked the five men
with blunt objects, pelted them with rocks and shot them with pellet guns.
However, Jimenez and defense attorneys agreed that some of the defendants
were less involved than others.
Hall said outside court his client was judged by
prosecutors as far less culpable. He said Williams was the first one arrested
and the first to fully confess to the crimes.
Similarly, Lisa Damiani, the attorney for Deboer,
said her client was "at the lower end" of involvement in the attacks. Deboer,
she said, was the driver of a car that ferried the youths from their homes
in Rancho Peñasquitos to the canyon.
"His personality is that he is a follower," she said.
"I think even the District Attorney's Office will admit that Steven is
at the lower end of culpability here."
Greg Moran: (619) 542-4586; firstname.lastname@example.org
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