Utah teen soccer goalie pleads guilty to homicide for attacking referee over yellow card

Cameron Smith
A relative holds up a photo of Ricardo Portillo in action — Associated Press

A Utah teenager pleaded guilty to the unthinkable Monday when he accepted a plea deal that confirmed he was responsible for the death of a soccer referee in a violent incident dating to late April.

As reported by the Associated Press, the unnamed 17-year-old, whose name has not been released because he is still technically a minor, pleaded guilty to a charge of homicide by assault, a lesser charge than some that had been mooted. The charge allows the teen to be tried in a juvenile court, avoiding the state prosecution’s efforts to move his trial into adult court because the attack was made within three months of the attacker’s 18th birthday.

The unnamed boy attacked 47-year-old soccer referee Ricardo Portillo after the ref had infuriated him with a bad call during a match in late April. The attacker was playing as a goaltender and was handed a yellow card for a foul late in a match on April 27 in Taylorsville, Utah. Enraged by the carded penalty, the goalie allegedly punched the referee in the head, knocking him to the ground and, eventually causing him to collapse and vomit blood.

Portillo was transported to a nearby hospital and remained in a coma for nearly a week after the attack, at which point he died while still at the medical facility.

The attacker and his father fled the scene shortly after an ambulance was called for Portillo, despite being told to remain on site, a fact that prosecutors had cited as motivation to try him as an adult.

In testimony on Monday, the teenager admitted his guilt in the incident with a simple statement -- "I was frustrated at the ref and caused his death" -- but was also supported by statements from his lawyer, which painted the teen as the son of a hardworking Utah family that simply made a poor choice.

"[The attacker is a] good kid and excellent student who made one, terrible mistake," the teen's lawyer, Monte Sleight, told the Associated Press.

The teen will continue to be held in juvenile detention as he awaits his trial as he has been viewed to be a flight risk because of the severity of the charges against him. Now that he formally faces homicide charges, the goalie’s life is almost certainly changed even more profoundly than he could have imagined it would have been.

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