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Teen Sentenced To 15 Years To Life In Transient Murder

June 13, 1987 GMT

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) _ A prep school student has been sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for the commando-style killing of a transient in a park.

James ″Rusty″ Tramel, 19, of Victoria, Texas, should be sent to the California Youth Authority until he’s 25, then serve the rest of his term in state prison, Superior Court Judge Bruce Dodds ruled Thursday. Tramel could be eligible for parole in 1995.

Tramel and David Kurtzman, 19, a classmate at the Northwestern Preparatory School in Santa Barbara, were convicted last year of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Michael Stephenson, 29, in a gazebo in Alameda Park on Aug. 4, 1985.

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Kurtzman was sentenced to 16 years to life last year, but a jury initially deadlocked on the case against Tramel. He was retried and convicted last December.

″I accept responsibility for my involvement in this case, for the things leading up to the death of Michael Stephenson, and many of the things that happened afterwards,″ Tramel told Dodds before the sentencing.

″It was my irresponsibility, self-centeredness and insecurity that played a great part in how I handled things,″ he said. ″It was never my intention at any time for anyone to be hurt or killed. Nonetheless, the things that I did led up to that.″

He added: ″All I can do is ask for forgiveness″ from the victim’s family. ″Tell them how truly sorry I am.″

But the victim’s father, Edward Stephenson, told the judge that he ″will never forget and will never forgive what this toilet has done to my family.″

The youths said they dressed in dark clothing and embarked on a sortie in search of gang members who had harassed their classmates. They found Stephenson in a sleeping bag, and Kurtzman slashed the man’s throat and stabbed him 17 times with a Marine K-bar knife.

Kurtzman contended he reacted out of panic and fear for his life after Tramel told him: ″I think that’s one of them.″

During the trial, Tramel’s attorney contended his client did nothing to Stephenson, but Deputy District Attorney Robert Calvert said: ″This is a case where two boys went out ... looking for a fight. They wanted to hurt someone, and they brought the utensils to do it.″

The California Youth Authority had recommended that Tramel go straight to prison because a hacksaw blade was found in his cell earlier this year. The judge said he can be transfered to prison at any time if there are problems.