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Teen Charged With Homicide After Death Of Soccer Referee

The 17-year-old soccer goalie who allegedly punched and killed a referee during a game in Utah last month faces a charge of "homicide by assault" and may be tried as an adult.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill sought the charge in a petition filed with a juvenile court Wednesday. Gill is also seeking to have the unidentified suspect certified as an adult.

The case is now in the hands of a juvenile court, as the suspected assailant is under 18. He was arrested and placed in juvenile detention two days after the April 27 attack, which occurred during a recreational soccer match.

Witnesses and a police report say the goalie punched referee Ricardo Portillo, 46, in the head after being cited with a yellow card warning for rough play. Initially, Portillo did not seem seriously hurt. But he was rushed to a hospital after collapsing and spitting up blood.

Portillo lapsed into a coma; he died Saturday. His physicians said Portillo had suffered a traumatic head injury.

A public viewing and funeral mass for Portillo are scheduled for Wednesday afternoon and evening. His family says he will be buried in Mexico.

In Utah, "homicide by assault" is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison if the person charged is tried and convicted as an adult. If a juvenile court retains jurisdiction, it can apply a lesser sentence.

The homicide charge applies when prosecutors believe that an attacker used unlawful or violent force to cause bodily injury but did not intend to kill the victim.

Update at 4:40 p.m. ET. Possible Bail, And Cause Of Death:

Dr. Ed Leis, the Utah State Medical Examiner, "performed an autopsy and concluded that Mr. Portillo died as a result of injuries related to the blow to his head and his death was a homicide," according to a Probable Cause statement filed with Utah's Third Judicial District Juvenile Court.

A proposed arrest warrant that was released Wednesday seeks to establish bail at $100,007. As we noted, the accused assailant is already in custody in a juvenile detention center.

Other court documents reveal, for the first time, the name of the 17-year-old accused of punching Portillo. It is NPR's practice not to name juveniles who are accused or charged in criminal cases.

A juvenile court hearing was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, but it was postponed pending a decision about opening the hearing to media. Four Salt Lake City television stations and the city's two daily newspapers petitioned the court to permit the presence of reporters and pool cameras. Our original post continues:

"The District Attorney's Office respects and honors the integrity of the criminal and juvenile justice systems and will prosecute the case to the fullest extent of the law within the parameters of the justice systems," Gill said in a written statement. He declined to respond to questions, citing the confidentiality of the juvenile justice process.

Update at 5:30 p.m. ET: Prosecutors: Accused Could Be Tried As Adult:

Prosecutors allege in a court document that the accused teenager "is of sufficient maturity" to be tried as an adult and "[t]he likelihood of rehabilitation of the Juvenile is minimal."

"We're trying to balance between a youth who is close to being 18 with the amount of harm that has been caused," District Attorney Gill told the Salt Lake Tribune. "You want to balance the status of that youth with the harm that has been caused and the loss that has been suffered by this community."

Monica Diaz Greene, the juvenile defendant's attorney, was in court Wednesday afternoon and not available for comment, according to her office.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.
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