Trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday afternoon in Santa Ana for one of two men who have already spent years in prison for robbing and assaulting a World War II veteran on Veterans Day 2003 but were later slapped with murder charges when the man died after three years in a coma brought on by the attack. Curtis James Hill, 29, of Huntington Beach, had been scheduled to be released from prison on Aug. 12, but a murder conviction could keep him behind bars for the rest of his life without the possibility of parole.
Cecil Warren, 77, worked as handyman cleaning up around a Huntington Beach bank parking lot around 6 a.m. on Nov. 11, 2003, when he spotted Hill and John Kirk McKinney, 29, of Huntington Beach, inside his van parked there. When the WWII vet asked the burglars what they were doing in his van, they responded by hitting and kicking him in the head, stealing his wallet and leaving him moaning on the ground.
A half hour later or so, a passerby found Warren bleeding and moaning on the ground and called 9-1-1. Warren was able to give police a brief description of his attackers before losing consciousness. He was taken to a hospital and spent the next three and a half years in a coma on life support.
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Hill pleaded guilty and was sentenced on Oct. 10, 2006, to nine years in state prison for one felony count of second degree robbery, one felony count of aggravated assault, and admitted to sentencing enhancements for great bodily injury to an elder and committing a crime against a vulnerable victim.
After being found guilty by a jury of one felony count of second degree robbery and one felony count of aggravated assault, with the sentencing enhancement for committing a crime against a vulnerable victim found true, McKinney was sentenced on Feb. 2, 2007, to four years in state prison.
Warren died on Sept. 22, 2007, without ever coming out of the coma. He was 81. On the grounds that Hill and McKinney caused the injuries that killed Warren, the Orange County District Attorney's office charged the pair with murder on Sept. 4, 2009. At the time, both were still serving their sentences for the assault and robbery convictions. In fact, McKinney was hit with the new charge three days after he was originally scheduled to be released.
Hill now faces one felony count of special circumstances murder in the commission of a robbery. McKinney faces the same charge and possibility of life in prison without parole at a separate and yet-to-be-scheduled trial.