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SALSA-SLAYER GETS 11 YEARS BEHIND BARS SHOPLIFTER THREW A BOTTLE, CAUSING MAN'S BRAIN INJURY.

Byline: KAREN MAESHIRO

Staff Writer

LANCASTER -- A 19-year-old Lancaster man has been ordered to serve 11 years in prison for throwing a bottle of salsa that fatally injured a volunteer collecting donations for the homeless.

The case of Joseph Peterson started out as a relatively minor affair when he was accused of stealing M&Ms and Twizzlers from a discount store.

When Peterson fled with the candy, Charles Hairston, a 51-year-old homeless-group volunteer, tried to stop him, sheriff's officials said. Peterson threw the bottle, hitting him in the head. Hairston died three weeks later.

Peterson pleaded no contest Wednesday to voluntary manslaughter after prosecutors agreed to dismiss a charge of murder. He was sentenced to 11 years.

"It's probably a fair resolution on the matter," Deputy District Attorney Bernie LaForteza said.

Peterson's attorney, Tyson Beers, said there was no malice or intent to kill on his client's part.

"We think it's a good resolution," Beers said. "Getting it down from second-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter is pretty good and a pretty big jump."

Hairston, a Lancaster resident, was outside a 99 Cents Only store July 14, 2006, collecting donations when Peterson, his girlfriend and another couple went inside the store, prosecutors said.

Employees saw them taking candy and tried to stop them. Peterson drove away, nearly hitting an employee who was trying to write down the license plate number, prosecutors said.

Hairston then pushed a shopping cart into the car to stop it and a fight followed that carried into the store. Peterson threw items at Hairston, hitting him in the head with the salsa.

Peterson was arrested, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor burglary and assault with a deadly weapon, and was sentenced to 30 days in jail and three years' probation.

But three days after the incident, Hairston went to a hospital complaining of a headache. Doctors diagnosed a subdural hematoma, or bruising inside his head, and Hairston underwent surgery on July 20. He died of complications Aug. 2 and the murder charge was filed.

karen.maeshiro(at)dailynews.com

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 28, 2007
Words:342
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