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ATTORNEY’S CONTENTION WAS UPHELD

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Someone has finally listened to what defense attorney Phil Hansen has been trying to say for 8 months now.

John Tavo Leota is not guilty of murder.Originally charged with that offense, Leota, 19, was found guilty Thursday night of a lesser charge, negligent homicide, which is a class A misdemeanor.

He faces a sentence of up to a year in jail. With the murder charge, he faced five years to life in prison.

A 3rd District Court jury deliberated for more than three hours before finding that Leota was criminally liable for the beating death of Malik Smith, 18.

Smith, the son of a Hollywood movie actress and producer, died two days after Leota punched him in the face during an incident March 18 at Club 35, a West Valley disco for teenagers.

According to testimony, Smith, a talented break dancer, challenged Leota to a competition.

Leota refused and was booed by the crowd.

A few moments later, Leota confronted Smith in the video room and asked him why he was taunting him.

Leota, who was wearing gang colors, also invited Smith to go outside and fight, but Smith declined and made an obscene remark to Leota.

"And then I punched him," said Leota. "I was angry . . . but I didn't intend to kill him."

Hansen argued to the jury that the blow to the face in itself was not life-threatening and was no more serious than what occurs in a "common fist fight in a bar or parking lot."

Smith died of injuries suffered when he fell to the floor, striking his head.

Leota was also found guilty of class B misdemeanor assault for striking another club patron as he was exiting down the stairs following the assault.