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Court reinstates murder conviction in former Hawaii surfer’s death

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Seth Cravens reacts as he's sentenced to 20 years to life in state prison for the 2007 second degree murder of professional surfer Emery Kauanui for which he was convicted of on November 18, at the San Diego County Superior Court, Monday, Feb. 2, 2009. (AP Photo/Howard Lipin, Pool)
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2007 May 29 CTY - An undated hand out photo of surfer Emery Kauanui, Jr. formerly of Kauai.
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Eric Matthew House, left, Hank Hendricks, second from left, Orlando Sandoval Osuna, second from right, and Matthew Murray Yanke, right, listen as Judge John Einhorn addresses the four, Friday, Sept. 5, 2008 in San Diego.. Four San Diego men have been sentenced to between 90 and 349 days in jail for their roles in the beating death of professional surfer Emery Kauanui last year.(AP Photo/John Gibbons, Pool)
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2007 May 29 CTY - An undated hand out photo of surfer Emery Kauanui, Jr. formerly of Kauai. He is pictured here with his mom Cindy Kauanui.
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Caleb Alimboyoguen, left, the older brother of Emery Kauanui, Emery's aunt, Debora Zanganeh, center, and Emery's mother, Cindy Kauanui, right, stand before San Diego County Superior Court Judge John Einhorn during the sentencing of Seth Cravens on Monday, Feb. 2, 2009 in San Diego, Calif. Cravens was found guilty on Nov. 18, 2008 of second-degree murder in the beating of professional surfer, Emery Kauanui, in May 2007. He was sentenced to 20 years to life in state prison. (AP Photo/Howard Lipin, Pool)

SAN DIEGO >> The California Supreme Court on Monday reinstated a man’s second-degree murder conviction for killing a well-known San Diego surfer, overturning a 2010 ruling by a state appeals court that had reduced it to voluntary manslaughter.

The state’s highest court said it disagreed with the decision by the 4th District Court of Appeals that cited insufficient evidence of implied malice by Seth Cravens when he delivered the single fatal punch to former Kauai resident Emery Kauanui, 24, in 2007.

Cravens was found guilty in November 2009 of second-degree murder and sentenced to 20 year to life in prison. The court ruling Monday means he will continue to serve that sentence.

If the voluntary manslaughter conviction had stuck, he could have faced a maximum of 16 years in prison.

Nicknamed the "Flying Hawaiian," Kauanui was a fixture at San Diego’s Windansea Beach, where his favorite surf break is now called "Emery’s Left."

Prosecutors said Cravens and four other men had gone to the La Jolla house of the surfer’s mother to retaliate after Kauanui accidentally spilled beer on one of the men earlier in the evening at a bar.

After a group attack on Kauanui, Cravens delivered the punch to his head that prosecutors said fractured his skull. He fell then died at a hospital four days later.

"As the jury found, it was an extremely powerful blow to the head calculated to catch the impaired victim off guard, without any opportunity for the victim to protect his head, and thereby deliver the victim directly and rapidly at his most vulnerable to a most unforgiving surface," Justice Marvin Baxter wrote in his explanation of the Supreme Court decision.

There was one dissenting opinion. Associate Justice Joyce Kennard said she agreed with the lower court ruling that it is hard to prove Cravens knew his punch would kill Kauanui.

Kennard pointed out that Cravens punched the surfer with his less dominant left hand and "therefore had less reason to suspect that the blow would endanger Kauanui’s life." Cravens also had delivered unexpected punches in past fights in which no one died.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis applauded the Supreme Court ruling, saying it "holds a murderer accountable for his crime and restores justice for Emery Kauanui, his family and friends."

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