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BOYS SAW TEEN SWING BAT WITNESSES TESTIFY TO BULLYING BY VICTIM, FATAL HIT IN RESPONSE.

Byline: Karen Maeshiro Staff Writer

LANCASTER - Two teenage baseball players testified that a 13-year-old boy on trial for murder swung his baseball bat at the head of an older boy as the older boy advanced toward him after first being hit on the knee.

Testifying Wednesday in Juvenile Court as the defense opened its case, the boys said the 13-year-old didn't put his full strength into the first swing against 15-year-old Jeremy Rourke's knee.

``It was a check swing. Then Jeremy moved and started walking toward (the younger boy) again,'' a 13-year-old witness testified. ``He kind of flinched over to the right side and started walking again. He came toward (the boy) again and (the boy) stepped back and swung again.''

A second witness, a 13-year-old who had been a spectator that night at the Palmdale PONY League games, testified in response to the defense attorney's questions that he assumed Jeremy intended to ``attack'' the younger boy after being hit on the knee.

That answer was stricken by Lancaster Juvenile Court Judge Richard Naranjo after the prosecutor objected to it as speculation. The case is being heard without a jury and is expected to wrap up today.

Jeremy, a Highland High School freshman described by family and friends as an avid athlete who enjoyed being a junior umpire, died within hours of being hit in the head April 12 at the Palmdale PONY League baseball field, where he was a spectator.

The prosecutor, in opening arguments Wednesday, said the 13-year-old committed second-degree murder by hitting Jeremy twice with an aluminum bat.

After being teased and shoved by Jeremy outside the ballfield snack stand, the younger boy walked to his equipment bag, withdrew a bat and walked back to where Jeremy was standing, Deputy District Attorney Lonnie Felker said. The boy hit Jeremy in the knee, then the head, Felker said.

The boy's attorney, William McKinney, argued that his client acted in self-defense after the bigger Jeremy, whom the attorney described as a bully, teased him and then pushed him more than once when the younger boy told him to be quiet.

The two boys who testified Thursday said the baseball bat that the boy used to hit Jeremy came from a bag hanging on his shoulder when Jeremy first pushed him, or was on the ground near him, not several feet away.

Both boys testified they had trouble with Jeremy. One said Jeremy had pushed him, and another said he almost got into a fistfight with the boy, but an adult intervened.

According to prosecution witnesses' testimony Wednesday, Jeremy had teased the boy about his first-place team losing a game minutes earlier to the last-place team.

After the boy told Jeremy to be quiet, Jeremy shoved him and said, ``What are you going to do about it?'' and pushed the boy again, a teammate testified.

One boy testified that after the 13-year-old retrieved his bat, he approached Jeremy and told other boys, ``Back up, I'm going to hit this guy.''

Another boy testified that the 13-year-old said, ``Move out of the way, I'm going to hit this fool.''

After the 13-year-old hit Jeremy in the left knee, Jeremy grabbed his leg, and then the boy swung his bat and hit Jeremy in the jaw, one boy testified. A few seconds elapsed between the two hits, the boy testified.

Some witnesses said the 13-year-old looked stunned and shocked after Jeremy went down, but Rocio Dodd, a parent of a player, said the boy looked angry.

``His eyes were red. I didn't see fear in his eyes. That's why I started scanning for my kids,'' Dodd said.

Dodd said about 50 people were standing around the snack bar when Jeremy was hit.

``I saw a bat come across a tall boy's legs. I saw the tall boy turning to his left and then saw the bat come across the side of his head,'' Dodd said. ``Then I looked at where the bat was coming from.''

The 13-year-old, whose name is being withheld because he is a juvenile, earlier denied a murder petition, the equivalent of entering a not-guilty plea in adult court.

Under California law, children under 14 cannot be tried as adults. If the charge is found to be true, sentencing can range from probation up to commitment at a California Youth Authority facility until the boy turns 25.

The 13-year-old defendant, a student at Cactus Intermediate School, remains in custody at Sylmar Juvenile Hall.

Karen Maeshiro, (661) 267-5744

karen.maeshiro(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 8, 2005
Words:753
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