The man accused of severely beating a fellow Belmont bar patron so badly he later died pleaded no contest Thursday to voluntary manslaughter and three counts of assault to avoid a murder trial and potential sentence beyond the 14-year plea deal.
Joseph Patrick Kaufman, 24, was scheduled to stand trial for second-degree murder next month and faced a 15-year-to-life term if convicted. Instead, the San Carlos man accepted the offer in the death of 48-year-old Barney Hanepen. Hanepen died May 2, a few days after being severely beaten outside the Lariat Tavern in Belmont on April 29, 2013.
“While this is extremely serious and sad for everybody involved, Mr. Kaufman feels very, very remorseful for his actions and it was never his intention to kill him,” defense attorney Jeff Jackson said.
Kaufman, 24, and Hanepen were drinking separately at the bar and, after it closed at 2:15 a.m., got into an argument outside although it’s unclear what exactly sparked the exchange, Jackson said.
The men and their respective companions were all drinking and Hanepen threw the first punch, according to one witness. Kaufman punched Hanepen in the face, pushing him to the ground and repeatedly kicking him in the head and torso until the man lost consciousness. Hanepen suffered broken vertebrae, fractures to his orbital bones, broken teeth and brain bleeding.
Afterward, Hanepen’s female friend departed the scene as did Kaufman and his friend, Jackson said.
“What jumped out at me is everybody leaves the scene and nobody reports anything,” Jackson said. “It wasn’t a lack of remorse but a lack of comprehension of how badly he was hurt.”
Police found Hanepen lying in the street and he remained hospitalized in critical condition until his death.
District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said the settlement was a compromise in light of some serious evidentiary issues on both sides, in large part because everybody involved was heavily intoxicated.
“It is a reasonable middle ground because both sides had issues and arguments to be made,” he said.
Kaufman will be formally sentenced May 23 and remains in custody without bail.
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