Teens stole knife just before killing in park, prosecutor says

03/28/2013 1:19 PM

06/26/2013 2:31 PM

Suspects accused in the stabbing of an 18-year-old in January stole the knife used in the fatal attack just minutes before at the same east Modesto park, a prosecutor said in court Thursday.

Details of the stabbing were revealed as the prosecutor successfully argued to have one of three murder defendants transferred to the adult jail on his 18th birthday next month.

Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira told the judge that 17-year-old Taylor Koplen continues to be a threat to the public and he now poses a risk to other youths in custody at the Stanislaus County Juvenile Hall.

Koplen, Jacob Segura, 18, and Juan Garcia, 16, are accused of trying to steal a cell phone from 18-year-old Tylor Crippen, who was walking with his girlfriend in Creekwood Park on Jan. 29 when he was attacked. Crippen was stabbed to death as he was trying to escape through the park.

"Mr. Koplen pulled out a knife and stabbed (Crippen) repeatedly, over a cell phone," Ferreira told the judge.

During Thursday's court hearing, the prosecutor said Koplen and his alleged accomplices robbed another victim shortly before Crippen was attacked. She said they believe the defendants stole a pocketknife from the other victim and later used the knife to kill Crippen.

Martin Baker, Koplen's defense attorney, told the judge that the allegations regarding who stabbed the victim were based on "self-serving statements" made by his client's co-defendants.

Third robbery victim

The prosecutor said Crippen's girlfriend told investigators that Koplen was the only one punching Crippen before he ran into the park to escape. Ferreira argued that blood droplets were found in the area where Crippen was punched, which could indicate that Koplen also stabbed Crippen before he tried to run away.

A criminal complaint against the defendants was amended last week to reflect the third robbery victim, a 17-year-old who was robbed of his cell phone at the same park. The suspects saw Crippen and his girlfriend with what appeared to be a cell phone and decided to rob them, too, according to statements in a search warrant filed in court.

Crippen and his girlfriend were not related to the 17-year-old victim, police have said. Investigators found and confiscated two cell phones at Koplen's home, which was searched the night he was arrested.

Koplen appeared in court Thursday without his co-defendants because the judge was hearing arguments over his bail and his transfer to the Stanislaus County Jail next month.

Baker argued that his client should stay at Juvenile Hall until he's 19 because of the educational benefits not offered at the adult jail.

Probation officer Sherry Huskey told the judge that juveniles being prosecuted as adults are housed in the Juvenile Hall's maximum-security area, which has limited space. She said Koplen has had behavioral problems there, including a gang-related assault in which he was the alleged aggressor.

Huskey also said Koplen has asked staff about what would happen if an assault involving weapons occurred at Juvenile Hall. She asked the judge to transfer Koplen to the adult jail.

Ferreira argued that there are programs at the adult jail that could help Koplen obtain a GED while in custody. She told the judge that Koplen now poses a risk to other youths at Juvenile Hall, as well as its staff.

After hearing the arguments, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Dawna Reeves ruled that Koplen will be sent to the adult jail next month, and his bail will remain at $10 million.

All three defendants are scheduled to return to court April 15 for a pretrial hearing.

They now face charges of first-degree murder, robbery and two counts of attempted robbery, along with enhancements for allegedly committing the crimes for the benefit of the Norteño street gang. They have pleaded not guilty.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394.

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