Irvine police officer John Sanders arrived at the active residential crime scene in January 2007 and took a defensive position behind a concrete wall.
What Sanders saw is the stuff of a horror movie starring Jason Voorhees.
Professional landscaper Woo Sung Park was lying face-down in the back yard while his zombie-like, non-English-speaking day worker Ernesto Hernandez Avalos held a shovel "like a baseball bat" and moved into a position to strike Park.
Sanders yelled for Avalos to drop the shovel. Thankfully, he complied. A shovel can serve as a lethal weapon.
But then Avalos suddenly reached down, grabbed a pickax and--over the detective's shouts--slammed it into the back of Park's head, according to court testimony.
It took a team of officers "a pretty violent struggle" to eventually subdue Avalos, who, though shot in the face by officers, attempted to strike them with a shovel.
Paramedics were not able to save Park, whose skull was fractured.
Using a Spanish interpreter, Avalos admitted to police he was a heavy user of methamphetamine and had smoked the drug just before Park, a 45-year-old Rancho Santa Margarita husband and father, hired him that day.
So what had set him off?
He said Park annoyed him by complaining he smelled and seemed lazy.
His response? When Park was looking the other way, he snuck up behind him and slammed the shovel into his skull and continued to strike the man at least five more times before cops arrived.
Avalos wanted to know what was the big deal? He said he hadn't intended to kill Park. He was just trying to vent his frustration. He later added a self-defense excuse that he thought Park was trying to kill him.
After the work of prosecutor Steve McGreevy, an Orange County jury convicted Avalos of murder, and Judge M. Marc Kelly, who called the crime "heinous," shipped him off to a California prison.
Avalos appealed his conviction, arguing that his crazy acts underscored that he wasn't thinking normally, and therefore he couldn't have formed the necessary mental intent to kill. But a three-justice appellate panel rejected the claim.
"Just because Avalos used weapons that happened to be close at hand does not preclude a reasonable inference that he planned to kill Park when the opportunity presented itself," wrote Justice David G. Sills on behalf of Raymond J. Ikola and Kathleen O'Leary. "The mind can quickly formulate both the intent to kill and a workable plan to achieve that end."
Avalos' motive? The justices concluded that Park's comments about his bad hygiene triggered the day worker's rage. As a result, he'll continue to serve his punishment: a 26-years-to-life prison sentence.
R. Scott Moxley’s award-winning investigative journalism has touched nerves for two decades. An angry congressman threatened to break Moxley’s knee caps. A dirty sheriff promised his critical reporting was irrelevant and then landed in prison. Corporate crooks won’t take his calls. Murderous gangsters mad-dogged him in court. The U.S. House of Representatives debated his work. Pusillanimous cops have left hostile messages using fake names. Federal prosecutors credited his stories for the arrest of a doctor who sold fake medicine to dying patients. And a frantic state legislator literally caught sleeping with lobbyists sprinted down state capital hallways to evade his questions in Sacramento.