SALT LAKE CITY — A 17-year-old charged with punching and killing a soccer referee will not challenge whether there is enough evidence to support the charge against him.
News media, however, will have to fight to gain access to portions of a hearing Monday to determine whether the teen will stand trial in the juvenile or adult court system.
Defense attorneys for Jose Domingo Teran, 17, stipulated Friday that there was sufficient evidence to support the charge of homicide by assault, a third-degree felony, that has been filed against Teran in 3rd District Juvenile Court. The evidence against him was going to be presented during a two-day hearing set to begin Monday but now that portion of the hearing is canceled.
Teran is accused of punching Ricardo Portillo, 46, while the man was refereeing a youth soccer match on April 27. Portillo called a foul against Teran, a 17-year-old goalie, and after issuing him a yellow card, the teen responded by punching Portillo "in the rear jaw area with a closed fist," according to charging documents.
Doctors at Intermountain Medical Center later told investigators that Portillo suffered a traumatic brain injury. He remained in a coma for a week before he died.
Prosecutors are seeking to have the teenager tried as an adult, but his attorneys are fighting to keep the matter in the juvenile court system. Monday's hearing will now solely focus on whether Judge Kimberly Hornak should certify Teran as an adult.
Hornak previously ruled that parts of this certification hearing, which focuses on a number of factors including the juvenile's background, the nature of the offense and the resources available to the teenager in both the adult and juvenile systems, would be open to the public.
In an order filed July 9, Hornak wrote that due to Teran's age, the hearings are presumed open, but that there was "good cause" under Utah law to close portions of the certification hearing related to the teenager's private records, such as his medical, psychological and school records.
But in an order filed as part of court record Friday, she said the certification hearing would be closed.
The Deseret News, KSL and other Salt Lake media outlets are objecting to the closure and asking for clarification. In a motion filed Saturday by attorney Jeffrey Hunt, the news media coalition is asking that Hornak permit public access to the portions of the hearing that do not apply to private records, as previously decided.
In the motion, the media asks that Hornak clarify that the closure still only applies to "testimony about private court records of the minor or his family," and points to Hornak's July 9 ruling, which limited the closure to those potentially sensitive issues. They argue that Hornak's prior order stated that anything that does not reveal the content of private records should remain open.
Further, Hunt argues that there are several things that will be discussed at the hearing that are not only not private, but are of interest to the general public. Those factors include whether or not the boy can be rehabilitated in the juvenile court system, whether the alleged crime was aggressive, violent or premeditated and Teran's previous record and history.
The fact that Teran may testify would also be a compelling reason to keep the hearing open, the motion states. The media is asking for a hearing on the matter prior to the start of the certification hearing Monday morning.
The decision to try and have the case moved to adult court was due to the teenager's age and the seriousness of the offense, prosecutors have said.
Hornak previously granted a request from state prosecutors to keep Teran in custody pending the decision of which court will ultimately handle the case. Prosecutor Patricia Cassell argued in June that she feared the teenager might be a flight risk and pointed to the fact that he left the scene of the crime despite being asked to stay.
Defense attorney Monte Sleight said at the time that the idea of his client being a flight risk or danger to the community is “beyond the pale” and that his client has no criminal history or record. He said the case should remain in the juvenile court system because Teran is a junior in high school who made a snap judgment.
If the case stays in the juvenile court system, Teran could only be held until the age of 21. If moved to the adult court system, the teenager could face possible prison time.
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