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Convicted Murderer to Get Retrial Over Sanity

February 28, 2001|CAITLIN LIU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 21-year-old Sylmar man convicted of first-degree murder for setting a man on fire will face a retrial over his sanity, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Jose Manuel Carranza was found guilty last week of killing Luciano Olmeda in 1997, but the San Fernando jury could not agree on whether the defendant was sane.

The jury deadlocked 10 to 2, favoring sanity, after deliberating less than two days, and Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Meredith C. Taylor declared a mistrial.

If Carranza is found sane after a retrial, he faces a maximum sentence of 31 years and eight months to life, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Damon.

During a four-day trial, Damon told jurors that Carranza, who was 18 at the time, approached Olmeda, 45, who was drunk and sitting against a wall outside a San Fernando convenience store. The youth kicked Olmeda so hard that he broke the man's jaw, and then poured paint thinner on him and flicked a lighter. Olmeda, who suffered third-degree burns, died in a hospital later that day.

In a taped interview Damon played in court, Carranza told police he had been feeling angry before going to the store because he had been fighting with his girlfriend. "I had to take my frustrations out," Carranza said on the tape.

Carranza's attorney, Dale Rubin, contended that his client was insane at the time of the crime. He showed jurors a video of Carranza when he was a boy of 8 or 9 at a birthday party where he accidentally was hit in the head with a baseball bat by another boy who was trying to strike at a pinata. Ever since that injury, Rubin said, Carranza had a "fascination for fire."

In the hours before Carranza burned Olmeda to death, he also started fires at a church and a nearby park. When Carranza was about 13, he was arrested for starting a fire at a school, according to court documents.

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