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Jury calls for death of jailhouse killer

January 24, 2007|Peter Y. Hong | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles jury ordered the death penalty Tuesday for an inmate who wandered for hours through Men's Central jail, finally finding a witness who had testified against him in a murder case and strangling him in his cell.

The verdict, which will be followed if it is upheld by the judge, followed the conviction last month of Santiago Pineda, 25, for the murder of Raul Tinajero, 20.

Tinajero's April 2004 slaying was the most notorious of 14 jailhouse killings in Los Angeles County since 2000. Two weeks before he was killed, Tinajero, 20, had testified that he saw Pineda kill Rafael Sanchez.

The day Tinajero was killed, Pineda used a false ID wristband to roam throughout the jail from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. He entered Tinajero's cell about 10:30 a.m. and ordered other inmates to turn around as he strangled the man. He then wrote down the names and booking numbers of the other inmates, threatening them if they reported the incident, the report noted.

The jury deliberated nearly five days before deciding on the death sentence.

The county paid $1.25 million last year to settle a lawsuit by Tinajero's relatives. It was the second-largest payout for an inmate death in county history.

A 2004 report to L.A. County supervisors detailed how Pineda capitalized on failures in jail security to murder Tinajero. After Pineda was caught in an escape attempt, jailers did not follow a requirement to constantly monitor him, the report said.

Five weeks before the slaying, a judge had ordered jailers to isolate Tinajero in a special cell because he was a witness in a murder case.

Even after being accused of killing Tinajero, Pineda was classified at a danger level of 7 out of 9, despite a policy that killers receive the highest classification, a 2005 report stated.

Pineda, a short man with a shaved head, appeared in court in a long-sleeved red dress shirt and necktie.

He showed no emotion as the court clerk read the death recommendation.

Pineda was also found guilty in December of murdering Sanchez. The jury continues to deliberate a possible death sentence in that case. The foreman said panel members were split 8 to 4, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders sent them back to work after a majority said they could still reach a verdict.

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