Release looms for man who, at 13, killed 87-year-old with skateboard

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comMarch 27, 2014 

Nine years after an 87-year-old San Luis Obispo man was beaten to death with a skateboard, his killer could be discharged as soon as April 9, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

The killer, who was 13 at the time, is currently housed at Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino. During a discharge consideration hearing Tuesday, a three-member state panel voted unanimously to release the man, now 22, despite objections from the prosecution.

“We have done everything to oppose his release from custody,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerret Gran.

The Tribune has never revealed the killer’s name because he was a minor when the crime was committed. Under California law, he could not be tried as an adult because he was under the age of 14.

The crime was shocking for its brutal details and the ages of both the victim and his killer.

On Feb. 26, 2005, the 5-foot-2 teen broke into Gerald O’Malley’s South Street mobile home and bashed his head repeatedly with a 31-inch long, 2.5-pound skateboard, shattering the victim’s skull. The boy stole the keys to O’Malley’s SUV, returned with a padlock and then locked O’Malley in his home, where he died in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor. A 12-year-old friend helped the boy steal O’Malley’s vehicle, which was later abandoned.

O’Malley, a 20-year Army veteran who was buried on what would have been his 88th birthday, was described in court as a frail old man — 5-foot-8 and 125 pounds — who lived alone and frequently dined at the local IHOP restaurant. O’Malley, who sometimes used a walker, had suffered from multiple health ailments, including a form of heart disease.

After the murder, at least 10 other children knew of the crime — some having peeked inside a window to see O’Malley’s corpse — but kept it secret.

During his trial, the boy’s defense attorneys argued that he had a low IQ resulting from brain damage. That damage, with unknown origins, impaired the teen’s judgment, according to one expert witness. As a result, the defense argued, the boy could not understand right from wrong.

But Superior Court Judge Teresa Estrada-Mullaney said the boy’s statement to investigators — including a partial confession — showed he knew the killing was wrong.

One of seven children, whose father had been in prison for spousal abuse and possession of a controlled substance, the boy was detained at the Juvenile Services Center before his sentencing. At the center, he once pounded on the doors of his room with his hands until they were bruised enough to require medical attention. He requested counseling services more than 100 times, and he was put on suicide watch three times, according to The Tribune’s archives.

After he was convicted of murder, he was initially sent to the Southern Youth Correctional Reception Center and Clinic in Norwalk, where he could have stayed until he was 25. He was later transferred to Patton.

The District Attorney’s Office is researching the matter to see if they can block the release, possibly by appealing to the governor’s office.

“The crime was brutal,” Gran said. “We believe the punishment he has served does not fit the crime that was committed.”

While the panel ordered his release, a local judge will determine exactly where he goes for the next two years — likely a halfway house — which could be in another county.

The teen was the youngest person in at least 30 years to be arrested in connection with a murder in San Luis Obispo County.

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