Twenty-one years after fleeing Los Angeles and taking an assumed name, Armando Liberati, 65, was found guilty Wednesday of stabbing his ex-wife's lover to death.
Liberati, apprehended in Philadelphia last February when authorities learned that he had applied for Social Security benefits under his real name, faces sentencing Dec. 17 in Los Angeles Superior Court on his conviction of voluntary manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon.
Because of complicated changes in sentencing laws since the death of Fred Shaheen on Sept. 12, 1964, Liberati could receive a term ranging anywhere from probation to life in prison, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Allan S. Tyson, who prosecuted the case.
The gaunt retiree, who had faced first-degree murder charges, was found guilty of stabbing Shaheen through the heart outside the Hollywood apartment of Liberati's ex-wife, Mary Ann Carter. The scuffle occurred, authorities said, after Liberati learned that the former postman planned to wed Carter, who had divorced Liberati a year previously.
With its verdict of voluntary manslaughter, the jury decided that the crime occurred in the heat of passion and was not planned.
Carter was one of four witnesses called by Tyson during the three-day trial. But jurors, who deliberated for portions of four days, noted after they had delivered their verdict that Carter's testimony was fraught with inconsistencies.
Indeed, asserted jury foreman Frederick Jones, if Liberati had not acknowledged to Philadelphia police upon his arrest that he had pulled a knife on Shaheen, the jury might have had trouble convicting Liberati at all.
"She was quite persistent on remembering only what she wanted to remember," said Jones, 34, of Inglewood, an airline customer service agent.
Liberati, who lived quietly in South Philadelphia and worked at a restaurant under the assumed name Albert Abbonizio, showed little expression as Superior Court Judge Robert T. Altman read the verdict.
"Obviously, I'm pleased it's manslaughter as opposed to murder," said his lawyer, Charles E. Lloyd. But, he added, "I thought the verdict should have been not guilty based on inconsistent testimony."
Relatives of Shaheen, meanwhile, were furious at the outcome, with brother Ned Shaheen labeling the verdict "a travesty."
Shaheen, 64, a Hollywood film editor and producer, said he had always believed that Liberati would eventually be caught. But after hearing the manslaughter verdict, he said he told jurors outside the courtroom:
"You can hope and pray to God, or whatever else that you worship, (that) a murder of this sort never happens within your family and you can further pray that a jury such as yours will never sit in judgment of same."
Tyson said Carter's testimony was inconsistent mainly because of the long delay caused by Liberati's flight.
"Essentially, he got away with murder," Tyson said, noting that a second witness had also seen the knifing, but "she's 79 years old and living in a convalescent home" and was too frail to testify.
Altman, who must follow laws in effect in 1964 when he sentences Liberati, can give him probation or turn him over to the state Department of Corrections for sentencing.