Rancho Santa Margarita teen sentenced to 10 years in hammer attack on father

A 19-year-old Rancho Santa Margarita man who repeatedly struck his sleeping father’s head with a hammer was sentenced to 10 years in custody on Friday.

John Edward Kudla pleaded guilty in January to charges of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon or force likely to produce great bodily injury. He was 17 at the time of the crime and was charged as an adult.

In the courtroom Friday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg L. Prickett said the sentence was an attempt to balance a need for justice with a family’s need to heal.

“This is a tragic case from so many different standpoints, but ultimately there is a family that is now broken that is attempting to heal,” the judge said.

On the morning of May 22 2013, prosecutors said Kudla took a large construction hammer from the kitchen area, which was under renovation, and walked into a bedroom where he struck his sleeping father nine times in the head.

The wounds were so severe that authorities at first thought the father, John Kudla, a reserve sergeant for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, had been shot.

After the attack, the younger Kudla got dressed, ate breakfast and told another family member that his father was “sick and would probably stay in bed all day,” prosecutors said. He is suspected of then stealing his father’s wallet and keys and taking his father’s Volkswagen convertible to a nearby school.

Kudla then picked up some friends from the school and dropped them off at a fast-food restaurant, authorities said.

A family member found the injured father in bed at about 9:30 a.m.

The elder Kudla underwent “emergency lifesaving” surgery and was in a coma for a period.

At the sentencing, Deputy District Attorney Robert Goodkin told the judge that the father suffered severe brain damage and will never be able to work.

“It’s clear from his injuries that his life has been changed forever,” Goodkin said.

The elder Kudla was not present in court, but the prosecutor read a letter the father had written to the judge stating that he “loves and forgives” his son.

In the letter, the father said the teen suffered from mental illness and was acting as “totally different person” that morning.

“The son that he knows would never do this to his dad,” Goodkin said.

Both the prosecution and defense agreed on the 10-year sentence for Kudla.

Public defender Jennifer Ryan said the teen has been allowed to stay in juvenile hall where he has since earned his high school diploma and some college credits.

“He has thrived in custody, your honor,” Ryan said.

In a statement he read to the court, the younger Kudla said he hopes he can one day help others.

“My past mistakes will not dictate my future choices,” he said.

He was allowed to hug his family members before he was led out of the courtroom.

John Kudla has a pending medical malpractice lawsuit against his son’s doctors and UC Irvine Healthcare. The lawsuit claims the younger Kudla suffers from mental conditions including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and that mental health professionals failed to properly diagnose and treat him.

Contact the writer: kpuente@ocregister.com, 714-834-3773

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