A man accused of murdering his grandmother and setting her Los Alamitos apartment on fire with two small children inside is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday for the start of jury trial, but it’s not likely the four year-old case will go to trial this week.
Joseph Elija Ettima, 29, faces charges of 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. However, the prosecutor assigned to the case is currently in the middle of another jury trial, said Farrah Emami, spokeswoman for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
Authorities spent much of the last year trying to determine if Ettima is mentally fit to stand trial. The case is the city’s oldest murder case awaiting trial.
Prosecutors allege Ettima killed his grandmother 69-year-old Emma Louise Hardwick-Street during an argument. They believe he set her apartment on fire after the murder, leaving his own 8-year-old brother and 3-year-old sister in the burning building. The little boy rescued his cousin, and both were placed in protective custody.
According to police, Ettima fled to Mexico and was placed on the U.S Marshal’s Most Wanted List because of his history of violence and weapons-related charges. Los Alamitos police issued a $25,000 reward for his capture, and Mexican authorities handed him over to the United States when he was arrested for an unrelated charge in that country four months after the killing.
At the time of his arrest U.S. Marshal Service Director John F. Clark called his capture a top priority, noting that his latest crime “demonstrates a callous disregard for human life that is unimaginable.”
Ettima could face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted.