Lady  Justice

A 33-year-old man was convicted Thursday of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of a former professional baseball player during a dispute in downtown Los Angeles at an area where transients were setting up camp for the night.

The Los Angeles Superior Court jury — which acquitted Billy Akai Morales of first-degree murder — found true an allegation that he had personally used a knife during the Aug. 17, 2013, attack on 55-year-old Rodney Craig.

Craig 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.

Deputy District Attorney Jacqueline Mac told jurors that 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.

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 said.

Craig died of a stab wound to the heart, Mac said.

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 is facing at least 16 years to life in state prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office. A sentencing date is expected to be set later.

Anthony Solomon Johnson, 24, who was charged along with Morales, pleaded no contest to assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury and was sentenced last August to six years in state prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

City News Service

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