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For week ended October 24, 1999 Posted 24 Oct 1999

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LDS man faces murder charges after killing pumpkin thief (Pumpkin Theft Gunman Faces Murder Charge)

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."

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information