The judicial process has just about run its course for the 17-year-old who admitted causing the death of a volunteer soccer referee during a match last April. But the consequences of a moment of unrestrained rage will be felt by the teenage soccer player, his family and the survivors of Ricardo Portillo for all their lives.
The teen pleaded guilty Monday to homicide by assault, a third-degree felony. He will remain in a juvenile prison facility, probably until his 21st birthday. The judge also required that he keep on his cell wall a picture of Portillo, the ref and beloved family man who the teen punched in the head, sending him into a coma and eventually ending his life.
The teenager also must write a letter each week to the Portillo family, explaining how he is working to change so that he will never again let his emotions overcome good judgment.
The sentence seems to fulfill the demands of justice. Nothing can restore Portillo to his family, but the penalty must be sufficient to recognize the gravity of the crime. The young man, who had never been in trouble with the law before, will rightly remain in juvenile custody.
The possibility of prosecuting him in adult court was chilling for him and his innocent family members. Incarceration with adult criminals most likely would have put the teenager's life on a destructive course that might not ever have been set right.
At his sentencing, the teenage defendant took full responsibility for his actions. He said he had always previously thought about his actions and hadn't acted impulsively, but when Portillo handed him a card for an infraction, he simply reacted without thinking. At the emotional court appearance, facing his own sobbing mother and tearful members of Portillo's family, he told everyone he was sorry.
"I acted impulsively, childish," the teen said. "I learned a lesson."
The tragedy should provide a lesson to others involved in recreational sports. Many young players are learning the wrong lesson from adults. Far too often referees, umpires, coaches and players are the targets of people who let themselves get too impassioned about a game and behave violently or aggressively.
Sports do not deserve the level of importance they sometimes are afforded. No game should have life-and-death consequences.
Just as the teen in this case must keep a photo of Portillo where he can see it, everyone involved in sports should remember him and put games back into proper perspective.