By Marty Graham
EL CAJON, Calif. (Reuters) - Six teenagers accused of attacking two homeless men they encountered on a Southern California bike trail over the weekend and beating one of them to death pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to murder and assault charges during their first court hearing.
Bail was set at $1 million for each of the San Diego-area youths - three 19-year-old males: Danny Swan III, Tyler Dare and Brian Kish, and three females: Cassidy Rowin, 18; Sarah Baillee, 18; and Cheyenne Maloof, 16.
All are being charged as adults in Saturday's attack, Deputy District Attorney Liz Rodriguez told reporters.
Authorities say the two victims, Stephen Hissom 55, and Edward Allen, 49, were riding their bikes on a path along a highway in the community of Santee, about 10 miles east of San Diego, when they were confronted by the defendants, who were on foot.
Allen was beaten first after getting into an argument with one of the girls, while Hissom initially pedaled on, then turned back to help his companion and was himself fatally assaulted, according to police.
"All the defendants participated by punching and kicking Allen," Rodriguez said told reporters after Wednesday's hearing. "When Hissom returned to help Allen, all six defendants disengaged and mercilessly beat Hissom to death."
Authorities have not offered an explanation as to what might have prompted the violence.
Allen survived the altercation but refused medical treatment after sheriff's deputies and emergency personnel arrived on the scene. Police have said he and Hissom were transients camping outdoors in the area before the attack.
Rodriguez described Dare and Swan in court as the "primary aggressors" and sought higher bail for them, but Superior Court Judge Daniel Goldstein set bond at the same amount for all the defendants.
The six made their court appearance from jail by way of video link, as Rowin cried throughout the proceedings.
The defendants were ordered to return to court for a preliminary evidentiary hearing on Dec. 16. If convicted, each faces a sentence of 25 years to life in prison for murder and up to four years in prison for assault, Rodriguez said.
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Eric Walsh)