SANTA CRUZ -- A homeless man was beaten to death with a skateboard near Depot Park in November because he struck an 18-year-old woman, according to testimony on Monday.
Charles Robert Powers, a 51-year-old nicknamed Chef, was beaten with rocks and a skateboard and left to die on a rainy night on Nov. 16, 2012.
Santa Cruz police initially arrested three men and two women on suspicion of murder and conspiracy, but authorities since then have singled out Jeremiah James Long, 27, of Santa Cruz for allegedly attacking Powers with a skateboard.
Testimony started Monday in a preliminary hearing against Long, which will determine whether there is enough evidence for a trial. Judge Ariadne Symons will make that determination.
Long faces 15 years to life in prison if convicted of murder, prosecutors said.
Powers died from blunt force trauma to the head, according to the Santa Cruz County Coroner's Office.
"We believe he was beaten to death," prosecutor Rob Wade said of Powers.
Friends of Powers said he had cooked at various Santa Cruz restaurants and was on the verge of finding a permanent place to live.
One of the women originally arrested in the case, Tina Anderson, 44, said on the witness stand Monday that Long was part of a group that confronted Powers on the train tracks near Depot Park.
A short time before Powers was killed, a 21-year-old woman who knew Anderson approached her and a group of other homeless
people under the West Cliff Drive trestle. The woman, Shaelyn Gonzales, told her that Powers had hit an 18-year-old woman. Gonzales rallied the group to confront Powers on behalf of her friend.
"She was angry, screaming," Anderson said of Gonzales. "She said, 'If you'll love me, you'll come.' "
Illuminating the rail line with a flashlight, Anderson, Long and a few others went to Powers' camp on a bushy hillside near the tracks.
Some people yelled at him and picked up rocks near the tracks to pelt Powers, who wielded a 3-foot-long metal or wood stick, Anderson said. Powers was "cornered" by the hillside, she said. He bled from his left cheek after being hit by the rocks.
Minutes later, Long beat him to death with a skateboard, prosecutors allege.
Long was among the group who threw rocks at Powers, Anderson later told police. But she wavered on the witness stand on whether she saw Long throw rocks. She said she did not throw rocks.
She said she left the scene, then later returned to find Powers on the ground with a head wound.
"It looked like he was dead," she said, wiping away tears.
Anderson, dressed in red jail clothes, paused to cry several times during her testimony.
Anderson has pleaded guilty to being an accessory to murder after the fact and is expected to be sentenced to three years in prison, prosecutors said. She said she came to Santa Cruz from Denmark in 2010 at the invitation of a friend and had been homeless for months before Powers' death.
Another man initially arrested on suspicion of murder and conspiracy in the case, 31-year-old Jason Michael Weiland, also pleaded guilty to accessory to murder and faces three years in prison, prosecutors said. He started his testimony on Monday.
The others originally charged in the case -- Shaelyn Gonzales, 22, and Michael Valgene Hudson, 41, -- also are expected to testify. Their charges have not been adjudicated. All the defendants are Santa Cruz County residents.
Testimony is expected to continue on Tuesday.
Follow Sentinel reporter Stephen Baxter at Twitter.com/sbaxter--sc
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