Best Defender Bytes:

February 20, 2014


Filed under: California Defense Attorney — fayarfa @ 6:53 am

SANTA ANA – A jury determined today that a man 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. Joseph Elija Ettima, 30, was found guilty by the same jury Feb. 4, 2014, 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. Ettima faces a maximum sentence of 27 years and eight months to life in state prison at his sentencing March 7, 2014, at 9:00 a.m. in Department C-41, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana.

As Ettima entered pleas of “not guilty” and “not guilty by reason of insanity,” the trial was held in two phases. The first phase was the guilt phase, during which jurors heard evidence about the crime and the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crime. In the second phase, the sanity phase, the same jury considered evidence to determine if the defendant was legally sane at the time of the crime, Ettima was found to be sane. When a defendant pleads “not guilty by reason of insanity,” the burden is on the defense to prove that the defendant was more likely than not legally insane when he committed the crime. To be considered legally insane, the defense must prove that the defendant had a mental disease or defect when he committed the crime, and also that this defect kept the defendant from understanding the nature of his act or from understanding that his act was morally or legally wrong.

On Jan. 19, 2009, Ettima visited the Los Alamitos home of his 69-year-old grandmother, Emma Louise Hardwick–Street, to see if he could move in with her. Hardwick-Street was already raising two young children in her home including the defendant’s 8-year-old brother and 3-year-old niece. When the victim refused to let Ettima move in, the defendant argued with his grandmother and stabbed her to death. The two children were present in the home at the time that Ettima murdered Hardwick-Street.

Ettima doused clothes and other flammable items in the house with rubbing alcohol and set the home on fire. He then fled the scene, leaving the two children. The 8-year-old boy was able to escape from the fire to the front of the house and rescued the 3-year-old girl by taking her with him.                                                Los Alamitos Police Department investigated this case with assistance from the United States Marshals Service. A warrant was issued for the defendant on Jan. 21, 2009. He was arrested by the United States Marshals Service in a town south of Mexico City and deported from Mexico to the United States on April 14, 2009.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Sonia Balleste is prosecuting this case.

Orange County District Attorney / Case # 09ZF0074 /  February 19, 2014

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