Trial Begins In Emery Kauanui’s Beating Death

As reported on

SAN DIEGO COURTS – After plea agreements and sentencings for co-defendants in the so-called Bird Rock Bandit murder case, the trial for Seth Cravens began yesterday with a graphic description of the fistfight that killed a La Jolla professional surfer.

Wiping away tears, the girlfriend of Emery Kauanui Jr. explained the horror of watching him fall after Cravens punched him once in the face.

“I heard his skull crack when it hit the pavement,” Jenny Grosso testified in San Diego Superior Court. “It sounded like something just pinged off the sidewalk, and then immediately there was a pool of blood coming from the back of his head. I thought he was dead right there.”

Kauanui, 24, lived for four days in a hospital after a fight outside his mother’s La Jolla condominium at about 1:30 a.m. on May 24, 2007.

Cravens, 22, is charged with murder and several other felony counts in connection with what Deputy District Attorney Sophia Roach said were a series of violent incidents over several years in La Jolla.
Seth Cravens

Defendant Seth Cravens and Attorney. Photo courtesy of

The Kauanui case drew international attention after prosecutors said Cravens and four other La Jolla High School graduates involved in the encounter were members of the Bird Rock Bandits. Prosecutors said the group engaged in many alcohol-fueled fights in the neighborhood.

Previous court hearings were packed. But Cravens’ trial began yesterday with only about a dozen onlookers, including his parents.

Because of the attention, “This case became not a prosecution but a runaway train,” Cravens’ attorney, Mary Ellen Attridge, said yesterday.

Cravens’ four co-defendants pleaded guilty in June to lesser crimes. Two of the four – Henri “Hank” Hendricks and Matthew Yanke – will be called to testify in Cravens’ defense, Attridge said outside the courtroom.

Grosso testified that Kauanui had been losing a fight with one of Cravens’friends when Cravens “just walked up to Emery and gave him one extremely hard punch.” The punch knocked Kauanui to the ground “like the lights went out,” Grosso said.

Attridge told the jury that Cravens punched Kauanui in self-defense.