The Supreme Court of California today affirmed a death penalty punishment for a one-armed amputee and immigrant, who fled Egypt on religious persecution grounds and suffered severe mental illness including regular hallucinations, because he molested, murdered, dismembered and may have cannibalized a 12-year-boy in La Habra in 1998.
John Samuel Ghobrial, an unemployed panhandler who served in the Egyptian army and lived in a backyard residential shack, now officially becomes Orange County’s 72nd defendant on San Quentin State Prison’s death row.
Though Ghobrial, repeatedly chained and beaten as a kid, was known to defecate on rooftops, mutilate himself, hear imaginary voices telling him to do violence, push a loaded shopping cart down Imperial Highway, utter hyper-talkative ramblings, pull out his own hair and toenails, cover his face with butter and coffee, and had publicly threatened to eat his sixth-grade victim’s penis prior to the murder of Juan Delgado, the court rejected a defense argument that an Orange County Superior Court judge wrongly failed to conduct a mental competency hearing.
The court ruled, “Although the defense counsel’s penalty phase mitigation evidence showed that the defendant suffered from serious mental illness, we conclude that the mitigating evidence did not constitute substantial evidence of present incompetence that required the trial court, on its own motion, to declare doubt and conduct a competence hearing.”
The court also didn’t accept a defense contention that while Ghobrial was the killer, there was insufficient evidence of a premediated murder.
“The defense stresses that the prosecution never presented evidence of extensive planning,” the court opined. “The jury was, however, entitled to consider evidence showing that [Ghobrial] had previously threatened to kill Delgado in considering whether the murder was premediated. [A witness] testified that Delgado approached him outside a liquor store and told him that the defendant was going to kill him and he later heard [Ghobrial] tell Delgado, ‘I will kill you and eat your pee-pee.’ The jury further heard evidence that when Delgado’s remains were found, his penis was missing.”
(A police search of his shed located a saw, scissors, knife, body cleaver, bolt cutters, a capping tool, tin snips and latex gloves plus Delgado’s school work, shoes and clothes.)
Finally, the court rejected a defense claim that the trial judge wrongly blocked potential testimony that would have purportedly shown “that the victim often sought out the companionship of adult men” while hanging around stores late at night.
The judges wrote, “The trial court excluded the testimony, concluding that any evidence describing Delgado’s general interactions with customers and employees at local businesses was irrelevant because such evidence had no tendency to prove or disprove that [Ghobrial, now 48-years-old] molested Delgado.”
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.