By PAUL ANDERSON
City News Service
A man who fatally stabbed his grandmother in Los Alamitos in front of his 8-year-old brother and 3-year-old niece was legally sane at the time of the crime, a jury decided today.
Joseph Elija Ettima, who is scheduled to be sentenced March 7, faces 22 years to life in prison for the Jan. 19, 2009, killing of 69-year-old Emma Louise Hardwick-Street. If jurors had found him to be insane, he would have been sent to a psychiatric hospital.
Ettima was convicted Feb. 4 of second-degree murder, arson and child abuse. He was acquitted of making criminal threats, although prosecutors alleged that he threatened the two children to get them to help burn the woman's body.
Ettima also faces mostly misdemeanor counts related to his conduct in jail. Those charges are expected to be resolved at the March 7 hearing, according to his attorney, Seth Bank of the Orange County Public Defender's Office.
Ettima, who had several outbursts in court prior to his trial and once ripped a cell door off its hinges and hurled it at a deputy, was praised by Orange County Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue for his behavior during today's proceedings.
“Thank you very much for your conduct, Mr. Ettima,” Donahue told the defendant. “You were a gentleman.”
During Ettima's trial, a curtain was drawn around the table at which the defendant and attorneys sit so that jurors could not see his shackled legs.
Three jury pools were dismissed prior to the sanity trial because of Ettima's outbursts. That prompted a rare jury trial in December that determined Ettima was competent to help his attorney during a trial on the murder charge.
Deputy District Attorney Sonia Balleste told jurors that Ettima's 8-year-old brother, Matthew Williams, was getting ready to watch his favorite television show and pouring himself a bowl of cereal when he heard a “blood-curdling” scream inside the apartment at 3671 Farquhar Ave.
The boy found Ettima in the bathroom over the victim, repeatedly stabbing her as the 3-year-old niece watched, Balleste said. The victim was stabbed 15 times, she said.
Threatening to kill the boy and girl, Ettima “ordered” 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, Balleste said.
When the girl began crying, Ettima threatened to kill both children if Matthew didn't get her to stop, then “ordered Matthew to strike a match and throw it on his own grandmother,” Balleste alleged.
As Ettima fled the burning apartment, the boy took the girl and went to a neighbor for help, the prosecutor said.
Before the stabbing, Ettima argued with his grandmother when she refused to let him move in, Balleste said. Jurors did not hear about what started the argument.
A friend drove Ettima to the Mexican border after the attack. He was arrested in Mexico in April 2009 and attempted to escape from the custody of a U.S. marshal at the Mexico City airport, Balleste said.
Ettima's attorney previously said his client has a “long history, dating back to when he was 6, of schizophrenia,” and has also suffered “psychotic delusions.”