Summarized by Kent Larsen
LDS man faces murder charges after killing pumpkin thief (Pumpkin Theft Gunman Faces Murder Charge)
Los Angeles Times 21Oct99 P2
By Jack Leonard, Louise Roug: Special to The Times
FULLERTON, CALIFORNIA -- After three teenagers stole a 3 1/2 foot
high lighted plastic pumpkin from his Halloween display, LDS Church
member Pete Tavita Solomona allegedly shot and killed one of the boys
with his .357 magnum handgun. While Solomona insists that the
shooting was an accident, prosecutors have taken a tough stance in
the case, charging Solomona with murder, which could carry a sentence
of 50 years to life in prison.
The incident happened on Monday evening, when the three teenagers,
who claim they mistook Solomona's house for that of a friend, stole
the Halloween decoration from Solomona's Buena Park neighborhood yard
as a prank. Fleeing in their car, the teenagers managed to infuriate
another motorist (also mistaking him for a friend), who then pursued
the three back to Solomona's house. When Solomona saw the three in
their car in front of his house, he pointed the gun at them and
started yelling at them. The gun went off and 17-year-old Brandon
Ketsdever, a popular Kennedy High School student was killed.
Prosecutors say that Solomona's actions, especially his use of a
loaded handgun when confronting the teenagers, are so negligent that
murder charges are merited. Orange County district attorney's office
spokeswoman Tori Richards says that the prosecutors looked at the
question closely, "Based on the evidence we had, and the fact that he
used a loaded .357 magnum handgun, which is a very powerful handgun,
we came to the conclusion that this should be a murder case."
Mark Werksman, attorney for Solomona, who is a devout member of the
LDS Church and a popular family man, says that the shooting is a
tragic accident, "The horror of what happened is affecting him
deeply. It's tragic but it was an accident. He didn't go out to kill
anybody. He went out to get his pumpkin back." Werksman also can't
understand the prosecution's motivations, "To elevate the accidental
discharge of a weapon to murder does seem a bit draconian, a bit
heavy-handed," he said.
Solomona was formally charged with murder at a hearing on Wednesday,
and bail was set at $250,000. Judge Gregg Pickett also barred
Solomona from contacting the victim's friends.
And Solomona's friends and neighbors are defending his interpretation
of the events. LDS Church member Karen Brunner who has known Solomona
through their LDS congregation for the past 15 years, can't imagine
that the shooting could be anything but an accident, "I definitely
feel that it must have been an accident. I can't see him aiming a gun
at someone and shooting on purpose. He's a big man, but he's like a
teddy bear inside."