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."