Judge Sets Trial Date in St. Patrick’s Day Case

July 5, 2007 No Comments

July 5, 2007 – Beach and Bay Press

Two young men were ordered to stand trial on conspiracy and assault charges that indirectly involved the traffic death of their friend in Pacific Beach. The judge dismissed all charges against a third man.

Following an all-day preliminary hearing on June 29, San Diego Superior Court Judge Peter Deddeh ordered Matthew Lexin, 24, and Edward Vitela, 23, to appear in court on July 16 to set a trial date. Deddeh said testimony indicated that Justin Nizer, 23, was not near the scene of the incident and dismissed the case against the Clairemont resident.

According to testimony, Vitela and Timothy Easton, 22, both of Encinitas, left a St. Patrick’s Day party in Pacific Beach and went to a service station. Both had been drinking heavily, and they fought with some teenagers. Easton suffered a cut above his eye in the fight, and both then returned to the party.

The men then left the party to try to avenge Easton’s injury by trying to stop a motorist who was not involved in the earlier incident. According to witnesses, Lexin, Vitela and Easton surrounded a red Jeep on Agate Street and yelled obscenities to the occupants.

The bewildered motorist and his girlfriend were driving around the neighborhood looking for an apartment to rent in Pacific Beach and didn’t know who the men were or why they started kicking the car. Easton was reported to have jumped on the hood of the car. In an attempt to get away from the men, the motorist drove off, running over Easton, who later died in a hospital.

The assault and conspiracy charges involve the reported attack on the motorist and not Easton’s death. Attorneys for all the men unsuccessfully asked the judge to dismiss the case, saying that charges were brought only because one man died.

“These guys were drunk. This was a conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor,” said attorney Tom Warwick, who represents Vitela. “This is not felony conduct.”

“This case — they’re looking for a scapegoat because Ken Eastman was killed,” argued attorney Rich Muir, who represents Lexin, who lives in Carlsbad.

The motorist has not been charged with a crime and neither he nor his girlfriend was called as witnesses, a tactic criticized by the defense attorneys. The motorist called police minutes later and reported the accident.

The judge also dismissed a charge of false imprisonment of the motorist and his girlfriend, saying they never left the car.

Deddeh said Easton was “so drunk” that he walked across Mission Boulevard despite the heavy traffic. The judge told Vitela’s attorney that “Your client’s right for self-defense stopped when they left the teenagers” and returned to the party.

The judge said the motorist feared he was a victim of a carjacking and also feared an assault on his girlfriend.

“He’s driving through PB looking for an apartment and his Jeep gets attacked. There’s conflicting evidence of whether Mr. Easton jumped on the car. Everybody’s perceptions were confused,” Deddeh said.

The attorneys and Deputy District Attorney Amy Maund reached a stipulation about shoeprints on the car. The shoes worn by Vitela and Nizer that night did not match shoe impressions on the Jeep, but two shoe impressions from Lexin were similar to those found on the car.

Lexin and Vitela remain free on their own recognizance.

Assault, Holidays

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