Last 2 enter pleas in attack on migrant workers

                       Precedent-setting case nearing end

                       By Greg Moran 
                       STAFF WRITER 

                       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 Patrick Hall. 

    All of the defendants entered their pleas in Juvenile Court.

    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;


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