After five days of deliberations, a jury Thursday found Zachary F. Pettus, 20, guilty of first-degree murder in the October, 1983, stabbing and strangulation death of Huntington Harbour boutique owner Darlene Hazboun.
The West Orange County Superior Court jury also found that the murder had been committed under the special circumstances of robbery and burglary, which could lead to imposition of the death penalty.
"I just think it was a prejudiced jury," said Willie Pettus, the defendant's father, after the verdict was announced. "That boy's never been in jail a day in his life, never hurt anybody."
Race Issue Raised
Pettus is black and the victim was white, a situation referred to at various points in the five-month trial.
At the request of Pettus' two attorneys, both of whom are black, the 11 whites and one black on the jury were polled on each of the five findings, including those that the murder was committed in the course of a robbery and burglary.
Judge Leonard McBride tentatively scheduled for next Tuesday the penalty phase of the deliberations, during which the jury will recommend either death in California's gas chamber or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. A jury recommendation of death is not binding on the judge, who may reduce the penalty to life imprisonment. But a judge may not institute the death penalty over a jury's imprisonment recommendation.
After the jury left the courtroom, Zachary Pettus slammed his fists onto the table where he was sitting and said "Damn, man!" before bursting into tears. Milton Grimes, one of his attorneys, covered Pettus' clasped hands with his own and comforted him.
Willie Pettus wept and spoke softly with his son across the wooden rail dividing the courtroom as attorneys for both sides conferred with the judge in his chambers.
At the outset of the trial, attorneys Grimes of Santa Ana and co-counsel Marne Glass of Cypress challenged the racial composition of two Orange County jury pools. Judge McBride agreed to make use of a jury pool drawn from the entire county, which is 1.3% black, but refused to move the trial to another county with a larger black population or to convene a pool that was 7.5% black, reflecting the black population of the entire state.
The prosecution case, argued by Deputy Dist. Atty. Patrick Geary, focused on eyewitness testimony that placed Pettus at or near the Harbour Landing Shopping Center the day before the killing of Hazboun, 37, as well as the day of the slaying. A fingerprint identified as that of Pettus was found on a filing cabinet behind the counter of the shop, called "Somewhere in Time," and jewelry belonging to the victim was found in Pettus' bedroom several days later.
"That stuff was planted on him," Willie Pettus said after the verdict, repeating the argument made by Grimes during the trial.
The elder Pettus, a Cincinnati maintenance mechanic, traveled from his home in the Midwest to attend the trial.