A state appeals court panel Friday upheld a transient’s conviction for fatally stabbing a former professional baseball player during an August 2013 dispute in downtown Los Angeles at a homeless encampment.

Rodney Craig. Image via baseball card

The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s claim that there were errors in the trial of Billy Akai Morales, who was convicted last year of second-degree murder for the Aug. 17, 2013, attack on Rodney Craig.

Craig, 55, was an outfielder who had played between 1979 and 1986 for the Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox. But he was living on the streets at the time he was attacked, authorities said.

Craig had set down his belongings on a sidewalk in the area of Wilshire Boulevard and Hope Street and decided to go to sleep for the night when he was confronted by a group of transients who did not want him to stay there, Deputy District Attorney Jacqueline Mac told jurors in Morales’ trial.

The group chased after Craig after he tried to kick a dog that belonged to a woman in the group, and Morales stabbed Craig after he tripped, the prosecutor told the panel.

Craig died of a stab wound to his heart, according to the prosecutor.

Defense attorney Daniel Tiktin urged the panel to acquit his client of murder, saying that Craig “provoked a violent confrontation” and that Morales made a “split-second decision to defend himself” during a fight.

Morales’ attorney said some of the confrontation was captured by surveillance video cameras in the area.

Morales was sentenced in March 2015 to 16 years to life in state prison.

Anthony Solomon Johnson, who was charged along with Morales, pleaded no contest to assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury and was sentenced to six years in state prison.

— City News Service

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