SAN DIEGO – Following a lengthy and emotional hearing Friday, a judge sentenced four young men to jail terms and placed them on three years’ probation in the death of a professional surfer in La Jolla in May 2007.
Superior Court Judge John S. Einhorn ordered Eric House, 21, and Matthew Yanke, 22, to serve 210 days each in jail. Orlando Osuna, 23, was sentenced to 349 days in jail. The three had pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the death of Emery Kauanui Jr., 24.
Henri “Hank” Hendricks, 22, was sentenced to 90 days in jail. He had pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact.
Einhorn said he chose probation and county jail over prison because of the defendants lack of criminal history and apparent ability to comply with the terms of probation. He also said he believed they were genuinely remorseful and noted there was no evidence that any of them threw the fatal punch.
However, the judge also noted that not one of the men stopped to help Kauanui when he lay bleeding on the ground.
The judge ordered the men to stay away from Windansea beach while on probation and to have no contact with other defendants in the case, the victim’s family, or several others named by the prosecutor.
“Nobody won, guys,” Einhorn said. “Please show your community, your families, the Kauanui family, the memory of Emery Kauanui and the court that I haven’t made a mistake on the sentencing.”
A fifth defendant, Seth Cravens, 22, is scheduled to go to trial in October on murder and other charges.
Defense attorneys argued Friday that probation was an appropriate punishment for their clients. The lawyers said the men understood the gravity of their actions and had accepted responsibility.
Prosecutors said the five men, all graduates of La Jolla High School, were members of a group called the Bird Rock Bandits, which had engaged in numerous fights in the neighborhood over the past several years.
Kauanui died four days after being injured in a street fight that began as a dispute at a La Jolla bar. Prosecutors contended it was a group melee, which defense lawyers disputed.
The victim’s mother and two brothers also spoke, as did Kauanui’s girlfriend. Through tears, they talked of his “spirit” and talent as a surfer, and the void his death left in their lives. A video played in the courtroom showed photos of Kauanui as a child and as an adult, riding the waves.
“Emery’s my treasure,” said Cindy Kauanui. “He’s the love of my life. I’m honored to have been his mother.”
Deputy District Attorney Sophia Roach read letters from others who had been affected by Kauanui’s death, including a woman who witnessed the fight.
Roach said she spoke to Kauanui’s father by phone, who said he and others on the Hawaiian island of Kauai where he lives had been “rocked” by Kauanui’s death.
Roach had asked the judge to sentence House, Yanke and Osuna to prison terms ranging from three years and six months to four years and six months. She had asked for a year-long jail term and probation for Hendricks.
“Despite every advantage, they participated in fights; observed and encouraged (them) for the thrill of it,” Roach said.