Two Years Later, Los Angeles Man Charged in Hollywood Sign Severed Head Case

More than two years after hikers discovered a severed head near the Hollywood sign in Griffith Park, Los Angeles County prosecutors have charged a man with murder.

The man, who resided in Los Angeles at the time of the alleged murder, was arrested in San Antonio, Texas on Sunday and was held on $1 million bail pending an extradition hearing. On Monday, he was charged with one felony count of murder with malice aforethought. If convicted, he may face 25 years to life in prison.

According to the complaint, the victim was dating and living with the suspect at the time of the murder, which occurred on or around December 27, 2011. The coroner reported that asphyxiation was the cause of death and it was ruled a homicide.

It was January 17, 2012 when two women walking their dogs in Griffith Park discovered the victim's head in a plastic bag. Police officers, firefighters and Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, along with a cadaver dog, then conducted a two-day search covering seven acres of Griffith Park and discovered more of the victim's body parts near the area where the head was found.

The criminal investigation into the murder turned its focus on this particular suspect because, according to an ABC News report, he had made inconsistent comments and suspicious statements. The Deputy District Attorney stated, "The suspect had the most information and the last contact with the victim, so the investigation centered on him."

Extradition, Malice Aforethought and the Importance of Legal Counsel

This story brings up two important issues. First, the defendant was arrested in Texas and is facing extradition to California. A suspected or convicted criminal may be arrested anywhere in the United States, even if the warrant was issued or a guilty verdict reached in another state. He or she may then face extradition proceedings, which must be completed for the person to be sent to the state in which he or she faces criminal charges or imprisonment. A hearing will typically be held to determine whether the individual should be extradited. Legal counsel is crucial in extradition proceedings, as there are situations where extradition could be denied and the individual allowed to remain in the area. It takes a competent attorney to protect a defendant's rights during these proceedings.

The other issue this story brings up is malice aforethought and its relation to murder charges. Malice aforethought may be described as a conscious intent to cause the death of another person, before the act is committed. According to California Penal Code § 187, "Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought." California Penal Code § 188 also states, "Such malice may be express or implied." There are three key elements to a murder charge in California, all of which must be proven beyond all doubt so secure a conviction:

  • The defendant committed an act that resulted in the death of another person;
  • The defendant committed said act with malice aforethought; and
  • The defendant committed the act without lawful excuse (i.e. in self-defense).

Challenging murder charges is one of the most difficult tasks for any criminal defense attorney. This is the most serious offense a person may be accused of committing, and law enforcement and prosecutors will do everything in their power to build as much evidence against a defendant as possible. It is up to a criminal defense attorney to protect the defendant's constitutional rights, ensuring that he or she is given the right to a fair trial.

At Lessem & Newstat, we stand prepared to take on the most complex criminal cases in Los Angeles. We take an aggressive, thorough approach to criminal defense, using our knowledge and experience to seek the best possible result for every client we represent. If you would like to discuss a case and your rights, please call for a confidential consultation.