A man who stabbed his grandmother more than a dozen times in front of his 8-year-old brother and 3-year-old niece in Los Alamitos was sentenced today to 28 years to life in prison.
Joseph Elija Ettima last month was found legally sane at time of the Jan. 19, 2009, murder 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 victim's body.
Ettima had several outbursts in court prior to his trial and once ripped a cell door off its hinges and hurled it at a deputy. During his 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 his murder trial.
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 had a "long history, dating back to when he was 6, of schizophrenia," and has also suffered "psychotic delusions."
--City News Service