A San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge on Friday ruled that Marshal Ryan Kaplan, 17, will be tried as an adult on suspicion that he and four other young men, dubbed the “Templeton Five,” raided a house party in Templeton in July and robbed more than 20 teens and young adults at gunpoint.
Friday’s decision brings an end to the question of whether Kaplan, Levi Cody Mattson, 17, and Wyatt Douglas Warnars, 17, will be tried as adults for crimes they allegedly committed as juveniles. Proposition 57, approved by voters in November, requires that whenever a minor is charged as an adult, a judge must review the “totality” of the case to determine whether it is appropriate.
Kaplan and Mattson, along with Donovan James Alvord, 19, now await trial. Only Warnars has been referred to juvenile court. Albert “AJ” Charles Heinicke Jr., 19, has already accepted a plea deal from the District Attorney’s Office of eight years in prison in exchange for testifying against the others.
In January, Judge John Trice ruled that juvenile court was appropriate for Warnars, saying his academic and criminal history, and role in the alleged robbery, showed his lack of sophistication.
“These cases are difficult,” Trice said Friday. “I’m basically holding someone’s life in my hands.”
Trice said he found it difficult to believe Kaplan could be rehabilitated by juvenile justice.
According to prosecutors, on July 20, 2016, the five defendants raided a rural Templeton house party at gunpoint, wearing bandanas and hoodies, rounding up more than 20 teens and young adults and forcing them to lie facedown on the ground outside. Several partygoers reported being assaulted and having cellphones, wallets and other items stolen.
The District Attorney’s Office alleged that Kaplan helped lead the assault on those at the house party by charging through the front door, and that he may have fired off one of the reported gunshots. Police said they found a loaded handgun under Kaplan’s seat in a stolen BMW when they took him into custody.
These cases are difficult. I’m basically holding someone’s life in my hands.
San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge John Trice
Deputy District Attorney Lindsey Bittner warned that Kaplan would be a danger to the public if he were to be referred to juvenile justice.
“There is a darn good chance he’s on the street in a year and a half,” Bittner said. “Marshal Kaplan isn’t worth that risk.”
Marilyn Curry, Kaplan’s attorney, argued that the true danger to the community was sending Kaplan to prison rather than juvenile justice.
“At this stage in development, (Kaplan) is uniquely suited for rehabilitation,” she said. “He will quite likely remain there until he is 23 years old.”
Trice issued his decision following two days of testimony, with witnesses including juvenile justice employees, a preschool operator, a football coach and a psychologist. Also testifying were two of Kaplan’s relatives — his father, Thomas Kaplan, and his cousin Kellan Oldenkamp.
“He was a very energetic, respectful, curious, outgoing athlete,” said Rajon Begin, Marshal Kaplan’s former football coach who referred to the defendant as “Kappy.”
Jeanne Hunt runs a day care and preschool in Templeton and watched Kaplan as a small child.
“He was a sweet, happy kid, really bright and curious,” she said. “I think he got lost. … He didn’t get all the help that he needed.”
Oldenkamp, herself a preschool teacher, fought tears as she described the Kaplan that she knew.
“When he was with me, we were always hugging and laughing and doing fun things,” she said.
Judge John Trice issued his decision following two days of testimony, with witnesses including juvenile justice employees, a preschool operator, a football coach and a psychologist.
Oldenkamp said her son looked up to Kaplan as a role model, and that he still didn’t know about Kaplan’s charges. As she spoke, Kaplan sobbed at the defense table.
However, testimony also portrayed a defendant prone to fits of sudden violence.
Under cross-examination, Hunt admitted that Kaplan had been expelled from school at age 9 for violent behavior, including allegedly throwing a desk at a teacher.
Kaplan’s father testified that his son was out of control, describing a time Kaplan broke a window and refused to clean it up.
Juvenile justice worker Jennifer Gonzalez said Kaplan triggered a facility-wide lockdown on several occasions at juvenile hall.
Though Oldenkamp said she loved her cousin and didn’t want him to go to prison, she testified that she wouldn’t let Kaplan live with her “because of the drugs.”
According to probation officers’ reports, Kaplan admitted to smoking marijuana at age 8 and methamphetamine at 12.
It was an emotional scene as Friday’s hearing concluded, with Oldenkamp, Thomas Kaplan and others emerging from the courtroom and fighting back tears. Curry declined to comment on Trice’s decision.
Trice also presided over hearings for Alvord and Mattson on Friday, where he chastised Bittner and District Attorney Dan Dow for offering Heinicke eight years in exchange for his testimony.
“I don’t think he’s a truthful witness,” Trice said. “I think it should have been at least a double-digit sentence.”
Trice also questioned Bittner and Dow’s apparent unwillingness to take the discussion of plea deals into the judge’s chambers.
“In my opinion, a lot of these discussions would be more appropriate in a private setting,” Trice said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a comment to Judge John Trice. The story has been changed to remove that quote.