Man gets 11 years in Half Moon Bay killing

A man accused of killing a homeless man in Half Moon Bay last September was sentenced to 11 years in state prison this morning in San Mateo County Superior Court.

Brian David Ruckel, 39, a transient, had pleaded no contest to killing 47-year-old Karl Stevens at a homeless encampment where Stevens was living, Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

Ruckel, a native of Portsmouth, Ohio, pleaded to voluntary manslaughter July 14 in a deal with prosecutors that stipulated he would serve the maximum sentence of 11 years in exchange for prosecutors dropping the murder charge, Wagstaffe said.

Deputy District Attorney Sean Gallagher said Ruckel is believed to have beaten and possibly strangled Stevens while the two were drinking, sometime between 9 a.m. on Sept. 18, 2007 and 3 a.m. the next day.

The motive for the killing remains unknown, though Ruckel is thought to become violent when he drinks, according to Gallagher.

Another transient and a reported traveling companion of Ruckel's who was also at the encampment, 49-year-old William Popp, found Stevens' body Sept. 19 in a field near the encampment, just north of the Shoreline Station area of Half Moon Bay.

Popp reported the body to police and also reported that he had been attacked and bitten in the ear by Ruckel several hours prior to finding the body, Wagstaffe said.

Police arrested Ruckel on Sept. 24, 2007 in Santa Cruz.

According to Gallagher, Stevens had been living without a home in Half Moon Bay for at least a couple of months before his murder, and was well-known by residents and employees of local soup kitchens. Ruckel and Popp reportedly showed up at his encampment a few days prior to the murder, Gallagher said.

Ruckel appeared wearing an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs in court today and stood straight-faced as Stevens' two older sisters addressed the court.

Speaking through tears and emphasizing forgiveness, Christy Hague and Grace Stevens described their brother Karl as a man who made friends easily and spent time at a nearby church.

Hague, the oldest of the three siblings, said her younger brother, “shared what he had and who he was with those around him,” and said his “legacy of kindness and generosity” are her family's model for how to live their lives.

The women also pleaded with Ruckel to use his time in prison to turn his life around.

“My hope is that [Ruckel's] life eventually amounts to something good,” Hague said.

“Please don't let my brother have died in vain,” she said.

Grace Stevens continued after her sister, emotionally forgiving Ruckel for killing her younger brother.

“I don't absolve you … but I forgive you,” said Grace Stevens, who asked Ruckel to make different choices as he moves forward with the rest of his life.

Judge Clifford Cretan then thanked the sisters for their statements and handed down Ruckel's 11-year sentence.

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