The sentencing for a 27-year-old Burbank man convicted of stabbing to death his on-and-off girlfriend was continued Thursday after the defense presented new evidence in the case.
Stephen Joanou Jr. was convicted of first-degree murder in March in the death of Patrina “Trina” Sabella, who was found behind a shed in South Weddington Park in Studio City on March 20, 2012, with 19 stab wounds to her neck. She was 32.
The new evidence arose after Joanou’s father, Stephen Joanou Sr., posted fliers — after the verdict was reached — in the park where Sabella was killed, offering an unspecified reward for more information.
Joanou Jr.’s attorney Christopher Chaney presented the evidence in a private meeting with Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Gregory Dohi, who repeated the argument in open court.
A woman reportedly came forward and told the defense that testimony by a transient man during the trial differed from the story he told in the park. Specifically, the man had testified that he was on the bleachers in the park around the time of the incident, but according to the woman, he had said he was further away in a tent, Dohi said.
The defense also cited Facebook posts that suggested someone else in Sabella’s circle of acquaintances may have been involved, Dohi said.
While Dohi called the new evidence “sketchy,” he granted Chaney’s request for a continuance to give him time to file a motion for a new trial.
Prosecutor Sharon Ransom objected, arguing that any evidence obtained now, two years after the murder, would “not be reliable.”
Surveillance video showed Joanou Jr. and Sabella buying coffee at a 7-Eleven in Hollywood, hours before she was found dead.
Two coffee cups with traces of DNA from Joanou and Sabella were discovered inside her car at the park.
Investigators also collected text messages that the pair had sent each other that night, discussing plans to meet up.
The last-ditch quest for information by Joanou Sr. was upsetting to two of Sabella’s friends who were in court. Outside the courtroom, her friend Sonny Lopez called the move a “spit in the face.”
“It’s extremely disgusting,” said Sabella’s longtime friend Caitlin O’Connell. “Why wasn’t he putting fliers up two years ago?”
But Joanou Sr. didn’t see it that way. “My son is innocent,” he said outside the courtroom.
“And we’re going to continue to fight for him,” Chaney added.