An Orange County Superior Court hearing is scheduled this afternoon on how to proceed with the murder trial of a 30-year-old man who refuses to leave his jail cell for court hearings.
Joseph Elija Ettima, 30, is accused of fatally stabbing his grandmother on Jan. 19, 2009, in her Los Alamitos home and then setting the structure on fire.
Ettima refused to leave his Orange County Jail cell Monday and Tuesday, according to Deputy District Attorney Sonia Balleste.
“Yesterday he didn't come to court,'' Balleste reportedly told City News Service. “We tried this again today and we heard overnight there was an incident at the jail where he flooded his cell and was put on suicide watch and refused to come to court again.”
Judge Francisco Briseno scheduled a 1:30 p.m. hearing in Santa Ana today to consider
reports from jail officials to determine if Ettima is having mental health issues or is just trying to postpone the trial, according to Balleste, who noted the trial could go on without the defendant present but attorneys would have to “go through a lot of legal hoops.”
Ettima has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to murder during the commission of a robbery, arson of an inhabited dwelling using an accelerant, robbery, two counts of child abuse and one felony count of criminal threats.
He was on parolee and had been living in motels when he went to the home of 69-year-old Emma Louise Hardwick-Street and asked if he could reside there. But his grandmother refused, explaining she was already raising his then-8-year-old brother and then-3-year-old niece. With the two children home at the time, Ettima allegedly killed his grandmother in a fit of rage and then set the house ablaze. The boy managed to grab the girl and get out safely. Ettima fled to Mexico, where he was later arrested and extradited back to Orange County in April 2009.
His disappearing act in court could become further complicated because his insanity defense will essentially require two trials: one to determine if he is nuts and another on whether he is guilty of the crimes.