VAN NUYS — It began as a fight at a party but ended in tragedy hours later when a 20-year-old Woodland Hills man lay dying in his backyard from stab wounds to his heart and lung.
On Tuesday, before a standing-room only courtroom packed with anxious family members and friends, a Van Nuys Superior Court jury found three Chatsworth men guilty of murder--two of first-degree and the third of second-degree--in connection with the death of Jason Shaw, who died March 2 during a birthday party he had thrown for a friend.
Michael Baker, Christopher Bryan Paonessa and Dino Ferrari Riggio, ages 18 to 20, could now face sentences ranging from 15 years to life for the multiple convictions, which also included attempted murder of Shaw's friend, conspiracy and burglary.
"The verdicts reached by this jury only serve to reinforce my faith in the jury system," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Lea Purwin D'Agostino. "The jurors showed incredible logic as well as comprehension of extremely complex areas of the law. I'm enormously grateful to them on my behalf and on behalf of the victim's families."
The lawyers for the defendants said they were saddened by the verdicts and said it was a tragedy for both families. "It's a tragic business," said defense attorney Bruce C. Hill. "It's something you never get used to seeing."
But jurors had no sympathy for the defendants.
"Anyone with the kind of disregard for a person's life should be given the correct punishment," said a juror who asked that he not be identified. "The defendants deserved what they were dealt."
Viki Arriola, the victim's mother, said she felt "just relief." She said jurors did the right thing.
Arriola and other family members attended the three-week trial every day. In testimony, witnesses said the incident began late on March 1 when Shaw and Baker got into a brawl over laughing gas, which had been provided to party guests to inhale.
Baker was forcibly removed from the house, but summoned his friends and returned with 15 to 20 people armed with knives and sticks.
As his attackers closed in, witnesses testified, Shaw and several friends frantically searched for something with which to defend themselves. They only thing available, D'Agostino said was a barbell and a baseball bat in the closet, said D'Agostino.
Shaw was punched and stabbed twice. His friend, Daniel Parkison, suffered six wounds.
In August, three Simi Valley men, each 18, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, residential burglary and assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the incident. They were sentenced to a year in county jail.
Five others including a juvenile still face assorted charges including conspiracy, residential burglary and assault with a deadly weapon.
Baker, Paonessa and Riggio will be sentenced Nov. 12 by Superior Court Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt.