POSTED: 1:51 p.m. HST, Jun 14, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 4:53 a.m. HST, Jun 15, 2013
SALT LAKE CITY >> The family of a Utah teenager charged in the death of a soccer referee apologized today to the man's family for the first time, saying it cannot imagine how much they miss their father.
The 17-year-old's sister read the apology shortly after a hearing in which her brother pleaded not guilty to the charge of homicide by assault. At the hearing, a juvenile court judge denied a request by the teenager's attorney to let him out of detention while the case plays out in court.
Police say the teenager, whose name The Associated Press is withholding because he's a minor, punched 46-year-old Ricardo Portillo in the head on April 27 after Portillo called a foul on him in a soccer game. Portillo died after a weeklong coma.
The teenager was charged last month with homicide by assault. Prosecutors want to try him as an adult.
The teenager's sister said the boy and his family feel terrible about what happened. Choking up while reading a prepared statement, the young woman offered the family's first words toward Portillo's family.
We "have thought of little else beyond the loss you must be feeling," she said. "We cannot imagine how much you must miss your father and we hope you can find peace."
She said the image portrayed in accounts of the incident are not the boy they know. She called him a kind, loving son and brother.
During the hearing, the sister and the teenager's mother sat in the front row as a translator whispered what was being said into the ear of the mother. The boy sat flanked by his attorneys, wearing an orange shirt and sporting long, black hair.
His attorney, Monte Sleight, told Juvenile Court Judge Kimberly Hornak that the boy is a good kid who excelled in school — taking AP courses — and simply made one horrible mistake. In making a case that his client should be allowed to go home to his family, Sleight scoffed at the notion his client was a flight risk or a threat to the community. He said the boy 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.
Patricia Cassell, a Salt Lake County deputy district attorney, said the boy is very much a flight risk. She pointed out that he and his father fled from the soccer field after the incident — 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 flight risk, Cassell said.
In response to a comment from Sleight that it was "silly" to call the boy violent and a risk to flee considering his clean history, Cassell shot back. "It is not silly what he did. He took a father from this family."
Hornak said she's impressed by the boy's academic record, lack of violent history and strong family dynamic. But the seriousness of the crime and the consequences he's facing carried more weight in her decision, she said.
Portillo's daughters sat in the first pew on the opposite side of the Salt Lake City courtroom from the boy's family. After the hearing, family spokesman Tony Yapias said they were pleased with the decision to keep the boy in custody.
Portillo's oldest daughter, Johana Portillo, said it was hard to see the accused teenager in court.
"It was a lot of mixed emotions: I couldn't believe I met the person who took my dad's life," she said. "But I will just leave everything in God's hands. There is no way for me to judge him. I forgive him for what he did to my dad because that's what my dad taught me to be: a forgiving person."
Hornak also ruled that some hearings in this case will be open to the public. The first part of a hearing scheduled for Aug. 5 to determine if there is enough evidence to move forward with the charges will be open. But the second part of that hearing, in which they discuss the teenager's social, psychological and family history, will be closed to protect his privacy, she said.