'I was frustrated,' says teen who admits killing referee

Judge orders soccer player to keep photo of victim in his cell until he's 21

Published: Monday, Aug. 5 2013 5:20 p.m. MDT

Ricardo Portillo's daughter Johana Portillo, 26, center, cries as she speaks with reporters following a hearing Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, in Salt Lake City. A teenager charged with killing Utah soccer referee Ricardo Portillo over a 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.

Rick Bowmer, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — The 26-year-old woman stood and spoke sincerely Monday, her dark eyes wide and her face open.

"I don't know what to think, it's hard," Johana Portillo said. "I think we have a right to feel anger right now. It's mixed emotions."

The 17-year-old charged with killing Portillo's father, Ricardo Portillo — a referee who was officiating the teen's soccer match — pleaded guilty Monday to homicide by assault. Third District Juvenile Judge Kimberly Hornak said she will recommend that Jose Domingo Teran serve the maximum sentence available — detention in a juvenile prison until he turns 21.

She also ordered that a picture of the referee be posted in Teran's cell — "So you have to look at him every day." The judge also ordered him to write weekly letters to the victim's daughters.

"I feel he needed to get a harsher punishment," Johana Portillo said of Teran. "But I do believe he needs a second chance. It's a 50-50."

Prosecutors had filed a motion to have Teran certified to stand trial as an adult and were going to present witnesses and argue their case Monday, but they withdrew that motion in exchange for the teen admitting to the third-degree felony. Hornak clarified through a series of questions that Teran understood his rights before accepting the admission.

"Are you admitting to this charge because it's true?" the judge asked.

"Yes," Teran replied, later explaining the crime in a brief sentence: "I was frustrated, hit the ref and caused his death."

Teran punched Ricardo Portillo, 46, after the referee in the April 27 youth soccer match called a foul on Teran. After Portillo issued him a yellow card, Teran responded by punching Portillo "in the rear jaw area with a closed fist," charging documents state.

Doctors later told investigators that Portillo suffered a traumatic brain injury. He remained in a coma for a week before he died.

Two of the victim's three daughters spoke to Teran through their emotions Monday.

"I don't think you'll ever understand how much pain and suffering you made us go through," Ana Portillo said. "No one should have to see their father die the way we experienced."

She told Teran that he should have taken a deep breath instead of acting impulsively. She asked him to change.

"I don't have bad feelings for you," Johana Portillo said. "We're in pain right now. There are no words to descried how we feel. Our family is destroyed right now. … I hope you learn your lesson."

Teran listened intently before addressing the court. He said he hoped to have a future of schooling and a family. He said he planned to teach his children, and other youths, about his experience and the importance of not using violence to solve problems.

He then apologized to the victim's family. "I'm sorry I acted impulsively and childish and I've learned a lesson," he said.

Teran's mother also addressed Portillo's family and offered an apology for the actions of her son. She said her son, who apparently had no criminal history and was a good student who excelled in advance placement classes, had never caused any problems.

"His life had been a very good life until that day," she said. "And I myself, also in representation of my entire family, would like to ask the victim's family for forgiveness."

The judge said that while Teran's good grades and clean history were factors in her sentence, she could not ignore the facts of the case.

"What the court is (most) concerned by is that your one act of violence was without any cause or excuse or any justification," Hornak said, adding that Portillo was serving the community when he was killed. "In one moment of rage you took away his life, you changed the life of all of his daughters and you changed your life and your family's life forever."

Monday's resolution was unexpected. On Friday, attorneys announced that they had agreed to stipulate that there was probable cause to show Teran had punched Portillo and a hearing where the evidence would have been presented against him was canceled. The hearing on Monday was initially to determine if Teran should be prosecuted as an adult.

Prosecutor Patricia Cassell said it was a "fair and good resolution" to the case. She said a report prepared before the certification hearing recommended that Teran not be certified as an adult.

Even with a prison sentence in the adult system, the most time Teran could have been sentenced to serve was five years. This way, he could spend as many as four years in custody and the judge's sentence would still send him to the juvenile equivalent of prison.

The Youth Parole Authority will ultimately determine how much time Teran spends in custody, Cassell said.

She said she hopes the case would stay with the community and prompt more thought and conversation about violence in organized sports.

"I think society needs to remember this and be impacted by it," she said.

Portillo family spokesman Tony Yapias agreed. "To act in violence doesn't solve any problems," he said. "I hope this has been a lesson for all of us."

Ana Portillo said the family cannot yet accept Teran's apology, but they hope to some day. But his apology will help as they grieve.

The three daughters said they weren't expecting the judge to order Teran to post their father's image in his cell, but they hope the photo will also feature them and Portillo's three grandchildren, so that Teran will grasp the entirety of their family's loss.

"It's hard to go home and he's not there," Johana Portillo said. "We miss his jokes, we miss his hugs. We miss everything about him."

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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