20-year-old sentenced to 6 years for fatal beating near Petco Park

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SAN DIEGO -- A 20-year-old man who pleaded guilty to a voluntary manslaughter charge for last year's fatal beating of a 56-year-old man near a pedestrian bridge behind Petco Park was sentenced Friday to six years in state prison.

Dominick Wells admitted his role in the Nov. 18, 2018, beating of Edward Starlard, who was left comatose as a result of the attack by Wells and a group of juveniles.

Three of the juveniles involved were also charged in juvenile court, with at least two of the minors pleading guilty so far, according to prosecutors.

Witnesses said Starlard had been fighting with a group of young people the afternoon of Nov. 18 when he was thrown down and beaten unconscious, suffering injuries that included fractures to his face and ribs. When witnesses started yelling at the attackers to stop, they fled east on Imperial Avenue, police said.

Starlard was placed on life support and never regained consciousness. He died Dec. 3 at Scripps Mercy Hospital.

A cell phone video recorded by a bystander captures Starlard, Wells and the juveniles exchanging words, none of which can be heard in the video. At some point, both men grab objects to seemingly defend themselves. Wells picks up a broomstick, while Starlard lifts a bicycle over his head.

Starland later tosses the bike to the ground, and is then knocked down to the sidewalk by Wells and the juveniles, who begin punching and kicking him.

A medical examiner testified that Starlard's death was the result of a heart attack, which could have been caused by stress or trauma from the fight.

Prosecutor Mary Loeb asked San Diego County Superior Court Judge Amalia L. Meza to impose the maximum possible term of 11 years, stating that Wells had multiple opportunities to withdraw from the altercation, but chose instead to attack Starlard even after he put the bike down, then beat him while he was helpless on the ground. She also said that while both men bore responsibility for their roles in the argument, Wells landed the first blow, and only stopped when bystanders intervened.

"There was no indication that this was going to stop except for people running across the street, seeing what was happening and yelling at the defendant and his friends to stop," Loeb said, which highlighted "the viciousness of this attack."

Wells' attorney, Stewart Dadmun, said his client rightfully defended himself against Starlard, who was attacking him, but was guilty of manslaughter for responding with excessive force. Dadmun said the altercation was sparked by Starlard making a lewd comment toward one of Wells' friends, a 14-year-old girl, then threatened to attack Wells and the teens.

The attorney said that while the prosecutor noted Wells could have walked away, "It's also worth pointing out that a 56-year-old man could have walked away." Dadmun also noted Wells' young age and lack of prior criminal record in asking for a three-year prison term.

Meza said she understood both men played a role in the fight, but said Wells responded with force that was "excessive, brutal and unnecessary when the victim was trying to retreat," and imposed the mid-term of six years.

Wells was previously charged with murder in the attack, but that charge was dismissed when he entered his guilty plea in September. He was also previously charged with torture for beating Starlard after he'd been knocked to the ground, but a judge dismissed that count at Wells' preliminary hearing.

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