Teen pleads guilty in connection with assault, theft


WALLA WALLA -- A Walla Walla teenager pleaded guilty Monday afternoon to a criminal charge related to the assault of a man and the theft of his property in Eastgate in May.

Michael R. Zuniga, 18, of 924 W. Willow St., entered the guilty plea in Superior Court to obstructing a law enforcement officer, a gross misdemeanor. In exchange, the prosecution agreed to drop a felony charge of complicity to first-degree robbery.

Zuniga faces up to a year in the County Jail when he's sentenced later. The prosecution is recommending a suspended sentence.

Officials had accused Zuniga of being an accomplice of Matthew E. Poarch, who beat up an acquaintance in early May and stole items from him. Zuniga was suspected of driving Poarch to and from the scene.

Poarch, 23, of 683 Pima Road, No. 277, pleaded guilty in July to third-degree assault and third-degree theft, admitting he repeatedly struck Spencer Caldwell in the head and face and took Caldwell's cell phone and wallet. Poarch initially was charged with first-degree robbery.

Poarch later received a year-long suspended sentence with credit for time already served in jail. His attorney explained at the time that Caldwell allegedly owed Poarch money and Poarch decided to take matters into his own hands.

The assault took place in the parking lot area of Taco Bell, 202 N. Wilbur Ave., about 7:35 p.m. May 4. Caldwell reportedly suffered facial and head injuries, which were examined by paramedics at the scene.

Caldwell recognized Zuniga as the driver of the vehicle. When Zuniga was contacted by authorities for an interview, he reportedly told them he was at his girlfriend's residence at the time of the assault. But that was refuted by the girlfriend's father, officials said.

Zuniga was charged May 19 and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was apprehended June 27, but later was released on bail.


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