A former member of the so-called Bird Rock Bandits testified Tuesday that his close friend was simply defending himself when he threw a fatal punch at a professional surfer.
Wearing a jail-issued uniform with handcuffs on his wrists, Matthew Yanke took the witness stand Tuesday in a closely watched murder trial. Yanke testified on behalf of Seth Cravens, his lifelong friend. Prosecutors allege that Cravens killed professional surfer Emery Kauanui during a street fight in La Jolla.
Yanke and Cravens were both members of the Bird Rock Bandits, a so-called gang that prosecutors say patrolled the La Jolla beaches, picking fights with "outsiders." After a drunken encounter with Kauanui, there was a fight outside Kauanui's home.
Yanke testified that Kauanui beat-up one of the Bandits and then squared off against Cravens. Yanke said Kauanui was shouting at Yanke and brandishing his fists. He said Cravens hit Kauanui with a single punch, which knocked Kauanui unconscious.
Yanke's testimony is designed to bolster the defense position that Cravens did not intent to hurt Kauanui and is definitely "not guilty" of the murder charge filed by prosecutors. But Yanke's version of the fatal encounter differs from that of the prosecution witnesses, who told the court that Cravens was the aggressor and attacked Kauanui for no reason.
Yanke and three other men involved in the fatal altercation pleaded guilty to lesser charges and were sentenced to various terms in county jail. Cravens did not take a plea bargain.
The trial could end by Friday.