Orange County sheriff's deputies today testified how a murder defendant scuffled with them and flooded his jail cell as he refused to go to court to face a jury.
Deputy Chad Renegar testified at a hearing today before Orange County Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno that he saw defendant Joseph Elija Ettima, 30, flooding his cell with his toilet.
"He had clogged his toilet and caused it to overflow," Renegar testified. "Mr. Ettima was sitting on top of the toilet flushing it."
Renegar had to turn off the water supply to the cell, the deputy testified.
Another deputy testified how Ettima demanded to see a psychologist in the jail, who told the deputy that the defendant had to remain in a "safety blanket" until he was to be taken to court for his trial. Safety blankets are usually put on defendants who are on a suicide watch.
Ettima was uncooperative when he was led back to his cell after meeting with his attorney, according to today's testimony by deputies at the jail.
Briseno wanted to hear about the alleged disruptions Monday and Tuesday in the run-up to Ettima's trial, which was on course to begin this week, but is on hold as the judge considered how to proceed.
Ettima, 30, was soon to go on trial for the Jan. 19, 2009, fatal stabbing of his grandmother, Emma Louise Hardwick-Street, in Los Alamitos.
Attorneys were going through pools of jurors for the trial, and were set to begin jury selection Tuesday, said Deputy District Attorney Sonia Balleste. Ettima, however, refused to leave his jail cell Monday and Tuesday, Balleste said.
Ettima has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, so his trial would be in two stages. In the first phase jurors would consider if he is guilty, and then in the second phase the panel would consider whether he should be sent to a mental health facility indefinitely or to prison.
Briseno will determine if Ettima is having mental health issues or is just trying to postpone the trial, Balleste said.
Briseno could order a trial without Ettima present, but the attorneys would have to "go through a lot of legal hoops" to do it, Balleste said.
Ettima is accused of going to his 69-year-old grandmother's Los Alamitos home to see if he could stay there, Balleste said. Ettima was on parole at the time and was staying in motels as he tried to find more permanent shelter, the prosecutor said.
The grandmother, who was raising the defendant's then-8-year-old brother and then-3-year-old niece, refused to let Ettima into the home, leading to the deadly conflict, Balleste said.
With the two children home at the time, Ettima allegedly killed the victim and then set the house ablaze, but the boy managed to grab the girl and get out safely, Balleste said.
Ettima fled to Mexico, where he was later arrested and extradited back to Orange County to face charges in April 2009, Balleste said.