OAKLAND (CBS SF) – A judge ordered that a 14-year-old Oakland high school student be placed in a group home for at least a year Friday for causing the death of a store owner in a violent confrontation over two bottles of vodka in May.
The boy, whose name was not disclosed because he is a juvenile, was initially charged with murder for the death of 57-year-old Dong Suk Kong on May 31, but prosecutors allowed him to plead guilty to the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. The boy also pleaded guilty to robbery.
Alameda County Juvenile Court Commissioner Mark Kliszewski, who barred reporters from the boy’s hearing, took the middle road in placing the boy in a group home.
The most lenient sentence would have been allowing to return home to his family and the harshest would have been sending him to a state Department of Juvenile Justice facility until the age of 20.
In between those two extremes was placing him in a group home or committing him to a juvenile camp. The boy will participate in a structured rehabilitation program at the group home.
Authorities said Kang died after suffering a heart attack following a confrontation with the boy at the Oak Knoll Market at 7980 Mountain Blvd. in Oakland at about 11:35 a.m. on May 31.
The boy, who was accompanied by two teenage girls, was supposed to be at the nearby Youth Empowerment School, a small high school, at the time.
Authorities said it appears that Kang’s heart attack was triggered by the anxiety he experienced during the incident.
Prosecutor Matt Golde said authorities do not think that the boy intended to cause Kang to die but under felony murder rules he initially charged the boy with murder because he believes the facts of the case supported such a charge.
He said if someone dies during the course of a violent crime, such as a robbery, the suspect is responsible for the victim’s death.
Authorities said the incident started when the boy, who had previously been banned from the store for stealing items and knocking over display cases, entered the store on May 31 and Kang saw him take two bottles of vodka.
Kang tried to stop the boy, but a violent pushing and shoving match began and the boy eventually fled the store, authorities said.
Kang got into his car to follow the juvenile but lost consciousness a few blocks away and his car swerved to a stop. He died at Highland Hospital in Oakland.
The boy was unremorseful about Kang’s death when he was arrested, telling police, “It is what it is,” authorities said.
Golde said he accepted the boy’s plea to the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter because the goal of the juvenile court system is to rehabilitate youths instead of severely punishing them.
Golde said the 14-year-old “has a lot of significant issues to deal with of various natures and I consider him to be a potential danger to society unless he deals with those issues.”
He said if the boy isn’t sufficiently rehabilitated after 12 to 18 months at the group home, Kliszewski could decide to send him to another group home for more rehabilitation.
Golde said the boy also could be placed in a locked facility, such as a Juvenile Justice center, if he doesn’t do well at group homes or if he violates the terms of his probation.
Kang’s widow, 60-year-old In Cha Ho, said in an interview at the market today that the boy “ruined my life.”
Ho said she didn’t attend the boy’s sentencing because “I didn’t want to see him.”
She said she wishes the boy had received a harsher sentence but understands that the goal of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate youths instead of imposing long sentences.
“The judge can do whatever he wants to do,” Ho said.
The boy’s attorney, John McDougall, declined to comment on the case after Friday’s hearing.
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