Public Safety

Murder Conviction Upheld in ‘Bird Rock Bandits’ Case

The California Supreme Court has reinstated the second-degree murder conviction of Seth Cravens, who was found guilty of delivering the fatal blow to professional surfer Emery Kauanui in May 2007, the District Attorney's Office reported Monday.

The California Supreme Court has reinstated the second-degree murder conviction of Seth Cravens, who was found guilty of delivering the fatal blow to professional surfer Emery Kauanui in May 2007, the District Attorney’s Office reported Monday.

The ruling reverses the 4th District Court of Appeals, which had reduced the second-degree murder conviction to voluntary manslaughter, citing insufficient evidence of implied malice.

“Today‟s Supreme Court ruling holds a murderer accountable for his crime and restores justice for Emery Kauanui, his family and friends,” said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. “The Attorney General‟s Office did an outstanding job arguing this case to the Supreme Court and our office is grateful for their work to uphold Seth Cravens’ conviction.”

The state Supreme Court found that there was sufficient evidence of implied malice derived from testimony regarding the conditions under which the fatal blow was delivered including: Kauanui’s impaired physical condition, the size difference between Cravens and Kauanui, the force and location of the blow, and most importantly to the Court, the fact that it was a sucker punch.

In November 2009, Cravens was found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Kauanui, who died in a hospital four days after Cravens and several companions attacked him in front of Kauanui’s home on in May 2007.

Cravens and four other men had gone to the house to retaliate after Kauanui had accidentally spilled beer on one of the men earlier in the evening at a bar. After a group attack on Kauanui, Cravens delivered a powerful sucker punch to Kauanui’s head, knocking him to the ground and fracturing his skull.

Writing for the majority, Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvin R. Baxter said, “The Court of Appeal not only failed to acknowledge that the fatal blow here was a sucker punch (or that it was inflicted with enough force to knock Kauanui unconscious before he even hit the pavement), but failed as well to grapple with the evidence tending to show defendant’s pattern of using sucker punches to his advantage.”

Four co-defendants — Orlando Osuna, Eric House, Matthew Yanke and Hank Hendricks — pleaded guilty to lesser charges in the death of Kauanui.

Full text of California Supreme Court ruling (PDF)