As reported on

SAN DIEGO COURTS – A man convicted of manslaughter in the beating death of a La Jolla surfer last year testified yesterday that the surfer was the aggressor in a brawl that left him fatally injured.

It was the first time Matthew Yanke, 22 – one of five young men originally charged in the case – told his version in court of the fight that killed 24-year-old Emery Kauanui.

Yanke testified on behalf of Seth Cravens, 22, who is being tried in San Diego Superior Court on charges of murder, assault and battery.

Yanke told the jury yesterday that he and a group of friends left a bar after 1 a.m. on May 24, 2007, and drove to a house on Draper Avenue, where Kauanui lived with his mother.

The plan was for Kauanui and another man, Eric House, to fight each other because they had had an altercation in the bar earlier that night.

"It was not to be anything but a one-on-one fight," Yanke said.

His testimony contrasted with that of several prosecution witnesses, who said Cravens – with Yanke, House, Orlando Osuna and Henri "Hank" Hendricks – were the aggressors.

When the group arrived at Kauanui’s home, Yanke said, he could see Kauanui through a window, pacing and talking on a cell phone. Kauanui ran out of the house, jumped over a low gate and began fighting with House in the street.

"Emery came at Eric swinging," Yanke said. Kauanui eventually got the upper hand in the fight with House, who got to his feet and said: "I’m done. I’m done."

But Yanke said Kauanui continued to fight, taking several swings at House and eventually trying to hit Cravens.

"Emery came at him trying to start a confrontation, which he did," Yanke testified, adding that at one point, the two men stood inches apart.

That’s when Cravens punched Kauanui in the jaw, causing him to fall backward and crack his head on the pavement.

Yanke said he was concerned about Kauanui, whom he had considered a friend, but left because he was scared.

Yanke, House and Osuna pleaded guilty in June to involuntary manslaughter and were sentenced later to jail terms ranging from about seven months to a year. Yanke testified yesterday wearing jail clothing and handcuffs.