There's no doubt that alcoholic Ethan Emanuel Rosenfeld murdered his elderly mother in Leisure World, but two powerful legal entities don't agree on the strength of the district attorney's case.
On May 30, 2005, Orange County paramedics found 82-year-old Helen Rosenfeld wrapped in bed "like a burrito" and dead.
She'd been choked to death in her sleep, according to an autopsy report.
At first, Rosenfeld claimed he'd found the corpse and called 911. He later changed his plea to guilty by reason of insanity. After killing his mother, he stole her credit card, but just bought a Starbucks coffee and chewing tobacco before returning to the scene of the crime.
He told sheriff's deputies that his mother had a temper and wasn't happy he was an unemployed alcoholic. He also said she had once entered his bedroom while he was having sex with a girlfriend--a traumatic experience.
Jurors weren't sympathetic to the nut defense and sided with veteran homicide prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh. They found Rosenfeld, 58, guilty of first-degree murder. Superior Court Judge Richard Toohey sentenced the killer to a term of 25 years to life in prison.
But a California Court of Appeal has rejected the jury's determination. In a 13-page, Nov. 29 opinion, a three-justice panel claimed that prosecutors had failed to prove Rosenfeld's conduct had been "deliberate and premeditated."
Indeed, the panel--led by Justice Eileen C. Moore--said there was "no evidence" of first-degree murder. Moore also slammed the prosecution for introducing "sheer speculation" into the trial. Ouch.
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Baytieh still believes law enforcement's case was solid, an opinion obviously held by the entire jury, which took about 30 minutes to reach a verdict.
"We respect the Court of Appeal's decision, but we respectfully disagree with its characterization of the evidence," said Baytieh. "The first-degree murder verdict was definitely based on the evidence and proper inferences from the evidence."
The Santa Ana-based appellate panel, which has been increasingly feisty with local prosecutors in recent years, reduced Rosenfeld's conviction to second-degree murder and reduced his punishment to 15 years to life in prison.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly