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Guilty plea for cousin in stabbing

May 17, 2002|By MARIO RENTERIA and RICHARD MONTENEGRO

Staff Writers

The 20-year-old Huntington Park man on trial for stabbing his then 7-month-old cousin in May 2001 pleaded guilty in an El Centro courtroom this morning to attempted premeditated murder.

Benjamin Jason Escobar and his El Centro-based attorney, Thomas Storey, appeared before Imperial County Superior Court Judge Matias Contreras to make the plea.

Initially Escobar had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the attempted murder of his cousin in the Imperial home in which the baby lived and cousin was staying.

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The paperwork changing Escobar's plea was filed with the court this morning. The trial was in the midst of the guilt phase, with a second phase coming later to determine whether Escobar was insane at the time of the stabbing.

Contreras asked Escobar this morning whether he had thought over the change of plea and whether Escobar had been influenced by anyone in said change.

Escobar responded the new plea was his decision, that he had thought it over and was not influenced.

The judge warned Escobar that by pleading guilty in the first phase, Escobar could be sentenced to life in prison if found sane at the time of the attempted murder. Escobar again acknowledged he understood.

The sanity phase of the trial is expected to start Monday in the County Courthouse in El Centro.

If found sane, sentencing could start July 10. If found insane, Escobar could be remanded immediately to a state mental institution, said Imperial County Deputy District Attorney Deborah Owen, who is prosecuting the case.

After Escobar pleaded guilty, Contreras asked Storey whether he had counseled Escobar on the repercussions of changing his plea. Storey said he had.

Further, Contreras asked Escobar, because he had pleaded guilty, whether Escobar admitted to carrying a knife for "personal use" at the time of stabbing.

Escobar responded yes.

Further details on the knife were unavailable at presstime.

Comments from Storey were unavailable.

About a half dozen family members of the stabbing victim were in the courtroom this morning, all wearing black and showing little emotion, as the change of plea was read.

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