Escobar jury selection under way

May 15, 2002|By MARIO RENTERÍA

Staff Writer

Jury selection started Tuesday in the trial of Benjamin Jason Escobar, accused of stabbing his then 7-month-old cousin in the neck and leaving him for dead in a trash can outside an Imperial home.

Escobar, 20, of Huntington Park, is on trial for the attempted murder of the baby on May 14, 2001 in Imperial. Escobar has pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.

According to earlier reports, Escobar admitted to Imperial police investigators to stabbing the infant and claimed voices made him do it.


During the jury selection process Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Matias Contreras, who is presiding over the case, told potential jurors the trial will be in two phases.

The first phase will be to establish whether Escobar committed the acts. The second phase, if he is found guilty in the first phase, will be to establish whether he was insane at the time of the acts. If he is found not guilty in the first phase the second phase will not be conducted.

Contreras said the trial will last about two weeks. He announced the names of some of the witnesses who might be called. Most are Imperial police officers, deputies from the county Sheriff's Office and doctors including psychologists to psychiatrists.

The court ran out of potential jurors Tuesday and continued this morning with a new batch. Potential jury members who were not excused Tuesday also returned today.

Imperial County Deputy District Attorney Deborah Owen is prosecuting the case along with Imperial police Investigator Sean Acuña.

Court-appointed attorney Thomas Storey of El Centro is defending Escobar.

According to reports, Escobar had planned to kill his 8-year-old cousin, who was in the Imperial house where Escobar was staying, but instead decided to go after the infant because he determined it would be easier.

It was around 3 p.m. May 14, 2001 when the baby's grandmother went to check on him. She thought he was asleep in his crib. Instead she found a pool of blood. She started a frantic search for the baby and she knocked on neighbors' doors as people in the area joined the search.

Police were called to the scene and within 15 minutes of their arrival Imperial police Investigator Ray Valenzuela found the baby in a trash bin, face down with a white trash bag covering him.

Police also found a bloody shirt that reportedly belonged to Escobar.

Escobar had been staying with the family for about two weeks when the attack occurred.

>> Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 337-3441.

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