No easy answer in fatal downtown beating case
Aug 23, 2013
By The News-Register Editorial Board
When a young father dies in the prime of life, victim of a punch thrown on a downtown street, it’s natural for the family and community to demand accountability, justice, perhaps even vengeance. And it’s natural for police and prosecutors to do what they can to deliver an appropriate measure.
However, unlike the stuff of film and television drama, real life is full of shades and nuances, complexities and cross-currents. It’s never as simple as versions glamorized for entertainment purposes.
Sometimes that reality thwarts the criminal justice system’s best efforts to even the scales, and our analysis suggests this is one of those times.
In some respects, Andrew Agcaoili’s death at the hands of Brandon Paholio reminds us of Trayvon Martin’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman, in a case that made national headlines.
The parallels are far from perfect. The national case was laced with racial, ethnic and political overtones, which put enormous pressure on prosecutors to take it to trial; the local case lacked those pressures.
However, in both cases, one young man killed another without being held legally accountable. And in both cases, the impediment was a legally plausible claim of self-defense.
That claim can be applied to assault charges at all levels, not just homicide charges. That left prosecutors with three choices, none terribly palatable:
Charge Paholio with homicide, knowing the case could easily take many months and cost as much as a million dollars to play out, all with little likelihood of success; charge everyone involved on both sides with a sustainable charge like disorderly conduct, knowing that would do little to satisfy anyone’s sense of justice, including their own; or simply concede the legal system had no reasonable way to address the tragic events of the early hours of Sunday, June 2, and forgo prosecution altogether.
District Attorney Brad Berry, who has always impressed us as a methodical, thoughtful and honest arbiter, led his team in concluding that prosecution would serve no useful purpose in such a clouded case.
Emotionally, it’s hard to accept that point of view. Intellectually, however, it’s less of a stretch.
We think he made the right call, difficult as that is for friends, family and others in the community to accept.
It seems to us the root cause of Agcaoili’s death, when you lay everything else bare, was excessive consumption of alcohol on the part of virtually everyone involved. It clouded their judgment, dulled their reflexes, fueled their aggression and puffed them full of bravado.
And members of the “victim” group get no pass on that. As the DA notes, they had been drinking all day, moving from a barbecue to the China House, Blue Moon and Cabana Club by turns.
Paholio was summoned to the scene to aid in the defense of older brother Lonnie Cain. His first response was the right one: “Tell him to go home.” Unfortunately, he eventually heeded the call to arms, with tragic results for all concerned.
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