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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Pair Guilty in Fatal Stabbing of Man at Party

Courts: It is Michael Baker and Christopher Bryan Paonessa's second conviction in 1997 death of Jason Shaw.

August 19, 2000|ROBERTO J. MANZANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Van Nuys jurors convicted two men of murder Friday but acquitted a third defendant of all major charges in the 1997 stabbing death of a 20-year-old man at a Woodland Hills party.

"We're happy, but no matter what, it doesn't bring our son back," said Vicki Arriola of Canoga Park, whose son, Jason Shaw, was the victim.

It was the second time Michael Baker, 22, and Christopher Bryan Paonessa, 21, were convicted of murder in the case. Earlier convictions were overturned by an appellate court.

Baker and Paonessa were also found guilty of the attempted murder of Daniel Parkison, a friend of Shaw's who was stabbed six times during the birthday party Shaw had thrown at his house in honor of a friend.

The third defendant, Dino Ferrari Riggio, 21, wept as he heard a clerk read not-guilty verdicts on all major counts. Later, the jury found him guilty of conspiracy to commit assault, but Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Tricia Ann Bigelow gave him credit for time served and ordered him released on probation.

In the first trial, Riggio, who drove Baker and Paonessa to Shaw's house, had been convicted of second-degree murder and received 15 years' to life. His relatives, visibly relieved at the end of the two-month trial, hugged and wept outside the courtroom after the verdicts were read.

Riggio's mother, Terry Venditto, said her son has been in jail or prison for three years.

"[The verdicts] restored my faith in the justice system," said Venditto, 45, of Chatsworth, adding that she also sympathized with Shaw's relatives. "From the beginning I felt bad for Shaw's family because losing a son is horrible."

On March 1, 1997, Baker tried to enter the party but refused to pay the cash admission at the door, Deputy Dist. Atty. Lea Purwin D'Agostino said. Later, he was beaten up and thrown out because of an argument with Shaw over laughing gas, which some party-goers had been sniffing.

Vowing revenge, Baker returned with Paonessa, Riggio and eight other youths and burst inside.

After he was confronted in his own bedroom, Shaw swung at Baker with a bat but missed, and was stabbed twice. He staggered into his backyard and died.

Baker's attorney, Bradley Brunon, said that the youths had no intent to kill. Brunon said Friday that he was disappointed and said Baker shouldn't have gotten more than voluntary manslaughter, especially since the jury had deadlocked on the lesser counts. He plans to file a motion for a new trial.

Morton Philip Borenstein, the attorney for Paonessa, had told jurors that prosecution witnesses were unreliable because they had been drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana and sniffing laughing gas, and they may be confused over what they saw during the melee.

Attorney Jonathan Mandel had said there was insufficient evidence to show that his client, Riggio, knew that others had weapons or that he was in Shaw's bedroom when the stabbing occurred.

Last year, the state Court of Appeal found that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt had erred in his jury instructions, including his refusal to give jurors the optional verdicts of voluntary manslaughter and self-defense.

The other eight youths involved in the case included several juveniles who either pleaded guilty or were convicted by a jury of charges ranging from burglary to conspiracy, D'Agostino said.

"It's a no-win situation for everybody," said Shaw's stepfather, John Arriola. I'm just glad it's over. It's been a three-year nightmare for us."

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