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Killer of Boy, 12, Given Death

Crime: O.C. judge rules that Egyptian immigrant's illness was not severe enough to overcome the gruesome nature of the crime.

April 11, 2002|MONTE MORIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A man convicted of molesting and killing a 12-year-old boy and encasing his body parts in concrete blocks that he scattered around a La Habra neighborhood was sentenced Wednesday to death.

Orange County Superior Court Judge John Ryan issued his ruling after the boy's father made a tearful statement to the court describing how the gruesome 1998 slaying has haunted his family.

"My other children don't want to go to school because they don't like people to ask them about it," said Jose Delgado, a La Habra truck driver. "When I'm about in public, I don't like people to ask me about it."

Delgado urged swift justice for the killer, Egyptian immigrant John Samuel Ghobrial.

"I would like that he be punished so that he can never do this to another child and another family. I don't want anyone to go through what we've been through," the father said. "I will always carry this pain for the rest of my life. I don't think I will ever reach a healing on this."

The 31-year-old Ghobrial sat slumped in his chair, staring forward without emotion as Jose Delgado spoke and the judge handed down his decision.

A jury in December convicted the one-armed panhandler of sexually abusing and then killing Juan Delgado, who had befriended Ghobrial when he started hanging around the boy's working-class neighborhood.

On Wednesday, defense attorney Denise Gragg argued that Ghobrial suffered from "severe and intractable" schizophrenia and that his treatment for that illness in Egypt consisted of damaging electroshock treatments. But Ryan ruled that Ghobrial's illness was not severe enough to overcome the aggravating factors of the crime.

Prosecutor David Brent said that if anyone deserves the death penalty, it's Ghobrial.

"There are those cases--rare, I hope--where it is appropriate for the government to take a life," Brent said. "I don't like it, but it's appropriate here."

The death sentence follows a six-month trial in which prosecutors introduced evidence that Ghobrial beat and sexually assaulted another boy, his cousin, in the early-1990s while living in Egypt.

As Egyptian police began searching for him in connection with that case, Ghobrial fled the country. Three years later, he made his way to Texas.

There, he told federal officials he had been persecuted in Egypt because he was a Coptic Christian. An immigration judge granted him religious asylum.

Eventually, Ghobrial moved to La Habra. He had no job, but some residents were touched by his disability and tried to help him.

One family rented him a backyard shed. Ghobrial became known in the neighborhood for giving candy to children. He befriended Juan, a Washington Middle School student who lived nearby. The boy was last seen in March 1998, walking with a one-armed man carrying a basketball.

Four days after Juan disappeared, neighbors discovered the first of the large concrete pieces. Detectives searched Ghobrial's shed and recovered some of Juan's clothes, a school detention slip, bags of concrete and pornographic magazines.

Ghobrial's trial was delayed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when his attorneys questioned whether a Middle Eastern man could receive a fair trial.

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