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May 8, 2013

Homicide by assault charge for teen

SALT LAKE CITY -- A Utah teen accused of punching a soccer referee who later died was charged Wednesday with homicide by assault, a count issued when an attack unintentionally causes death.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill also said he will seek to try the teen as an adult in the death of 46-year-old Ricardo Portillo.

The charge is less serious than manslaughter. It carries a possible sentence of up to five years in prison for adults, but penalties can be less for juveniles.

Gill said it became clear in looking at the facts that the teenager's actions didn't amount to murder or manslaughter.

"We did not believe we could demonstrate the premeditation or intent to justify those charges," Gill told The Associated Press. "Those other charges require another type of mental state. We did not believe that type of mental state was present."

The fact that the teenager will soon turn 18, combined with the seriousness of what happened, led Gill to push to have him tried as an adult. The chance of the teen's rehabilitation is minimal, prosecutors said in court documents. A juvenile court judge will ultimately rule on that request.

The 17-year-old, whose name is being withheld by The Associated Press because he's a minor, has been in juvenile detention since April 27 when the incident occurred at a recreational-league soccer match in a Salt Lake City suburb.

Authorities say the teenager was playing goalie when 46-year-old Ricardo Portillo called a penalty on him for pushing an opposing player. The teenager began arguing with Portillo and then struck him in the head.

Portillo was taken to the hospital in fair condition. Hours later, he went into a coma. He never regained consciousness and died Saturday.

Funeral services were being held Wednesday night in Salt Lake City for Portillo, who leaves behind three daughters and four grandchildren.

An afternoon wake was held from 1 to 7 p.m., followed by a procession in which a group of men carried a wooden casket carrying Portillo's remains about a quarter mile to a nearby Catholic church.

About 200 people -- most wearing white shirts -- packed into the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Salt Lake City for an evening funeral service conducted in Spanish.

Portillo was born in Mexico, but had lived in Utah for the past 17 years.

Family members said Portillo loved soccer, and had been working as a referee in different leagues for eight years. His oldest daughter, Johana Portillo, said he had been attacked before by players, even having his legs and ribs broken. Though his daughters begged him to quit, he said he couldn't give up his passion.

Portillo was a longtime referee, but he was not licensed by the Utah Soccer Referee Committee.

The incident occurred in a game held by La Liga Continental de Futbol, an unaffiliated soccer league created in 2009. The league holds games for children ages 4 to 17 each Saturday at a junior high school field in Taylorsville.

The oldest of Portillo's three daughters, Johana Portillo, declined comment about the charges through family spokesman Tony Yapias.

Yapias said Ricardo Portillo was well known in the community, and once said that he would someday be a famous soccer referee.

"How ironic," he said. "What has happened as a result of this is just that."

The league president, Mario Vasquez, said earlier this week that the league will hold an adult, co-ed soccer tournament in Portillo's honor May 25-26. The funds will go to his family.

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