SALT LAKE CITY — A teenager charged with killing a Utah soccer referee over a call during a game pleaded guilty today 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 will be tried in juvenile or adult court. Under the deal, prosecutors agreed to keep the case in juvenile court.
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.
“I was frustrated at the ref and caused his death,” the teenager said, speaking softly.
His attorney described him as a “good kid and excellent student who made one, terrible mistake.”
The teenager was charged with homicide by assault, a count issued when an attack unintentionally causes death.
On Friday, the teen’s attorney, Monte Sleight acknowledged there is probable cause the teen committed the crime in a private meeting with prosecutors and Juvenile Court Judge Kimberly Hornak, court records show.
Prosecutors had wanted the boy tried as an adult due to seriousness of what happened and because he’s set to turn 18 in less than three months. At a previous hearing in which the defense asked that the boy be allowed to go home to his family as the case progresses, prosecutors said the teen and his family are a flight risk.
Patricia Cassell, a Salt Lake County deputy district attorney, pointed out that he and his father left the soccer field after the incident despite being told to stay — before they even knew Portillo was in critical condition. Now that he’s facing possible prison time, the boy and his family are definitely a risk to flee, Cassell said.
But Sleight says the teen comes from a hard-working, stable family who has lived in Utah for 20 years. He pointed out that the boy turned himself into police following the incident.