SALT LAKE CITY — A teenager charged with killing a Utah soccer referee because he didn’t like the man’s call during a game pleaded guilty Monday to a charge of homicide by assault in a case that brought new attention to the issue of violence and sportsmanship in athletics.
The plea deal was hashed out between the teen’s attorneys and prosecutors as the judge planned to hear testimony to decide if the 17-year-old suspect would be tried in juvenile or adult court. Under the deal, prosecutors agreed to keep the case in juvenile court.
A judge sentenced the teenager to juvenile prison, leaving how much time he’ll spend there to a juvenile parole board. The maximum would be just more than three years until he turns 21, but the parole board has the authority to let him out sooner, said Patricia Cassell, a Salt Lake County deputy district attorney.
Police say the teenager punched 46-year-old Ricardo Portillo once in the head on April 27 after the referee called a foul on him. Portillo died after a weeklong coma, leaving behind three daughters.
The teenager, whose name The Associated Press is withholding due to his age, was charged with homicide by assault, a count issued when an attack unintentionally causes death.
“I was frustrated at the ref and caused his death,” the teenager said, speaking softly, when Juvenile Court Judge Kimberly Hornak asked him what happened.
Hornak ordered him to put up a picture in his cell of Portillo and write his daughters a letter every week about how he’s improving himself so that he’s reminded constantly of the pain he caused the family.
Two of Portillo’s daughters spoke in court Monday, telling the teenager that taking their father away has destroyed the family.
“I don’t think you’ll ever understand how much pain and suffering you made us go through,” said Ana Portillo, 21, looking at the teenager. “We just wish you had taken a deep breath before you did what you did. You have to change.”
After Portillo’s daughters spoke, the teen told the judge he acted impulsively and takes full responsibility for his actions. Handcuffed and wearing an orange prison shirt, he spoke calmly and slowly.
He told the judge he aims to get his high school degree and study chemical engineering in college. He then looked straight at Portillo’s daughters, seated in the front row, and told them he knows how much pain he has caused them.
“I’m sorry for everything I’ve done,” he said.
Later, the teen’s mother issued a tearful apology to the Portillos in Spanish, saying her son never had any trouble and was a good child until this incident.
Hornak noted the teen is a good student — taking Advanced Placement classes — with no previous criminal record. But she also underscored the seriousness of the crime and said she was most troubled that he acted so violently toward a person that did nothing to provoke him.
Cassell, the Salt Lake County deputy district attorney, said prosecutors viewed the deal as fair. Prosecutors previously said they wanted the boy tried as an adult due to the seriousness of what happened and because he’s set to turn 18 in less than three months.