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Man Guilty of Killing Parents for Insurance

December 05, 1991|VICKI TORRES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Valinda man has been convicted in Pomona Superior Court of killing his parents by a jury that reviewed photos of blood-stained walls and counters and spray-painted graffiti during its 2 1/2 days of deliberations.

De'Ondre Staten, 25, was found guilty Monday of the October, 1990, murders of Faye and Arthur Staten, owners of a La Puente beauty salon and supply store.

The jury took up the penalty phase Wednesday and could recommend the death sentence or life in prison without parole.

Staten, who showed little emotion during the monthlong trial, had no reaction when the verdict was read, but his lawyer was disappointed.

"I don't know how they came to the decision," defense attorney John Tyre said of the jury. "I guess they didn't believe my client."

Tyre had argued that Staten's parents were killed by members of a neighborhood Latino gang who entered the house while Staten was out for 15 minutes on a midnight food run.

The defense lawyer said he will call family members who will testify during the penalty phase that Staten is not a hard-core criminal.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Gary Hearnsberger said he will call no witnesses and plans to argue that the crime deserves the death penalty.

"The guy planned to kill the people who raised him, and he murdered them," the prosecutor said. "He deserves to die for that. . . . There aren't a lot of crimes that are a lot worse than that."

The Statens were slain near midnight in their spacious home on South Faxina Avenue, minutes after they came back from a trip to Egypt to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Faye Staten, 43, was stabbed 18 times and Arthur Staten, 44, was shot once in the back of the head.

Sheriff's deputies found blood splattered on the kitchen sink counter and six feet high on the dining room walls. Gang graffiti, "E.S.D. kills," was spray-painted on a mirror in the dining room.

Hearnsberger's case was built on circumstantial evidence. No murder weapon was found, nor were witnesses present at the deaths.

The prosecutor argued that Staten, who lived with his parents, planned the executions to collect $303,000 worth of life insurance policies of which he was sole beneficiary.

Hearnsberger called witnesses who testified that a few months before the killings, Staten had talked of murdering his parents and of the insurance money he would receive.

Relatives and friends also testified about the strained relationship between Staten and his father. Hearnsberger argued that the relationship provided yet another motive.

Hearnsberger contended that Staten doctored the crime scene after the slayings and spray-painted the graffiti himself. Spray-paint cans found at the Staten home were introduced as evidence.

Staten used the August, 1969, Tate-La Bianca murders as his model, the prosecutor said, showing the jurors a book of Los Angeles Times front pages that was found on a coffee table in the Staten home. The book was open to a page highlighted by articles about the Tate-La Bianca slayings in which bodies were mutilated and slogans were painted on the walls in blood.

Cult leader Charles Manson and a group of his followers are serving life sentences for those murders.

Hearnsberger argued that the Staten murders occurred at 11:47 p.m. Oct. 12 but were not reported until about 1 a.m. Oct. 13, which gave Staten time to clean up and dispose of murder weapons and his bloody clothes.

Gang experts from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department testified that the assault inside the house did not fit the drive-by shooting slayings characteristic of Latino gangs. Other gang experts testified that graffiti found inside the Staten home and on an outside wall were not in a Latino gang style.

Tyre tried to dismantle the prosecution's case by presenting witnesses who testified that Staten enjoyed a good, close relationship with his parents.

He suggested that deputies too hastily ruled out gang involvement and failed to investigate essential clues, such as a ladder found propped against a wall in a yard bordering the Staten property.

Tyre also challenged a neighbor's testimony that established the time of the shooting at 11:47 p.m. He contrasted that account with testimony from others who placed the Statens in the Inglewood area, near the Forum, just minutes before that time.

He also pointed out that the same neighbor told deputies shortly after the murders that the shots were fired at 12:30 a.m., when Staten was absent from the house.

Tyre tried to create doubt about the evidence against his client.

"All of those things don't get you to that point of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," Tyre told jurors.

Hearnsberger countered that Tyre's arguments of "maybe this, maybe that, maybe something else" were designed to lead the jury away from the evidence.

"God knows he doesn't want you to look at the evidence because, if you do, it leads to the conclusion that (Staten) killed his parents," he told jurors, who agreed.

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