Transient pleads not guilty to murder, ear-biting

A 38-year-old transient accused of the murder of a homeless man and of an ear-biting attack on another transient in Half Moon Bay in September pleaded notguilty to murder and mayhem charges Wednesday in San Mateo County Superior Court.

Brian David Ruckel, a transient and Portsmouth, Ohio, native, is being held in San Mateo County Jail without bail for the murder of 47-year-old Karl Stevens at a homeless encampment where Stevens was living, according to prosecutors.

Police arrested Ruckel on Sept. 24 in Santa Cruz.

According to Deputy District Attorney Sean Gallagher, Ruckel is believed to have beaten and possibly strangled Stevens while the two were drinking, some time between 9 a.m. on Sept. 18 and 3 a.m. on Sept. 19.

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

Another transient and a reported traveling companion of Ruckel's who was also at the encampment, 49-year-old William Popp, found Stevens' body on Sept. 19 in a nearby field and reported it to police, according to prosecutors. Popp also reported that he had been attacked and bitten in the ear by Ruckel several hours prior to finding the body.

Popp did not witness the killing, Gallagher said.

Ruckel appeared in court this afternoon with his newly appointed attorney James Thompson and pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him. His next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 9 to set a date for his preliminary hearing in the case.

According to Gallagher, Stevens had been living without a home in Half Moon Bay for at least a couple 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 faces up to 33 years to life in prison if convicted on both charges, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

— Bay City News

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