See the update at the end of this post on the jury declaring Ettima was sane at the time of his crimes.
ORIGINAL POST, FEB. 5, 7:31 A.M.: A jury in Santa Ana that convicted a man Tuesday–for murdering his grandmother and setting her house on fire while his 8-year-old brother and 3-year-old niece were inside the home–must now determine whether he was sane at the time.
Joseph Elija Ettima, 30, was found guilty of one felony count of second degree murder, one felony count of arson of an inhabited dwelling, two felony counts of child abuse, and a sentencing enhancement for arson with an accelerant.
Trying Ettima was delayed because he repeatedly refused to leave his jail cell. Because he entered pleas of "not guilty" and "not guilty by reason of insanity," the trial will now move into the sanity phase. That is scheduled to begin Monday.
The stakes are high: If the jury determines Ettima was sane at the time of the murder, he could be sent to state prison for life without the possibility of parole. If he is deemed insane, he could go to a state mental hospital, where after treatment doctors could recommend his release if he's no longer deemed a threat.
Ettima went to the Los Alamitos home of his 69-year-old grandmother, Emma Louise Hardwick-Street, on Jan. 19, 2009, to see if he could move in. But Hardwick-Street refused as she was already raising Ettima's then-8-year-old brother and then-3-year-old niece.
The little boy, Matthew Williams, was getting ready to watch his favorite TV show and pour himself a bowl of cereal when he heard a "blood-curdling" scream, Deputy District Attorney Sonia Balleste told jurors. (Hat tip to City News Service.)
The boy then found Ettima in the bathroom over the grandmother, who had been stabbed 15 times as the 3-year-old girl watched. Threatening to kill the boy and girl, Ettima directed Matthew to help him gather clothes, brooms and other flammable material to pile on top of Hardwick-Street's body, which Ettima moved to her bed, according to Balleste.
When the girl began crying, Ettima threatened to kill the children again if Matthew couldn't get her to stop, said Balleste, who added Ettima then ordered the boy to strike a match and throw it on his own grandmother.
That set the home ablaze, and Ettima fled leaving the children inside. The boy managed to grab his little sister and escape to a neighbor's house.
Speaking of escaping, that's what Ettima did, to Mexico. But a warrant was issued for him on Jan. 21, 2009, the U.S. Marshals Service arrested him in a town south of Mexico City and he was deported from Mexico to the U.S. on April 14, 2009.
UPDATE, FEB. 19, 5:49 P.M.: A jury in Santa Ana declared today that Joseph Elija Ettima was legally sane when he murdered his grandmother and set her house on fire while his 8-year-old brother and 3-year-old niece were inside the home, according to prosecutors.
The same jury had found the 30-year-old guilty on Feb. 4 of second degree murder, felony arson of an inhabited dwelling, two felony counts of child abuse and a sentencing enhancement for arson with an accelerant.
He now faces a maximum sentence of
2723 years to life in state prison or an indefinite term at a state medical hospital* at his scheduled March 7 sentencing.
* Corrected sentence.