A Granada Hills man who once faced life imprisonment for the fatal 1984 shooting of his former girlfriend's date was sentenced Friday to five years in prison.
San Fernando Superior Court Judge Ronald S. W. Lew agreed to accept a plea of guilty by Charles Ruben Stevens, 36, to a charge of voluntary manslaughter after three previous murder trials ended in mistrials.
In agreeing to the lesser charge, Stevens waived his right to a fourth jury trial.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Kenneth A. Loveman, who prosecuted Stevens, said Stevens "would be in prison a lot longer if any one of the three juries had found him guilty of murder."
With credit for 704 days he has spent in custody, Stevens could be paroled from prison in 18 months, said Paul Enright, a deputy public defender.
Stevens ambushed Evans Lee Crawford, 29, outside Crawford's Granada Hills home in December, 1984, according to court records. Prosecutors said Stevens was angry that Crawford was dating Roberta Duenas, who had broken up with Stevens a few months earlier.
No Witness to Shooting
In the first jury trial in September, 1985, testimony linked Stevens to the murder weapon, even though there was no witness to the shooting. Testimony included one witness who saw a person matching Stevens' description near the scene of the shooting shortly after it occurred.
The first trial ended with 10 of 12 jurors voting in favor of a first-degree murder conviction.
"I think he realized then how close he came to spending the rest of his life in prison," said Enright, who defended Stevens. "He came within two votes."
The second trial, in March, 1986, had one of Stevens' friends testifying that he overheard the defendant and Crawford arguing about Duenas on several occasions. The trial ended in another deadlock, with eight jurors favoring a first-degree murder verdict.
At a third trial last October, a witness said she saw a man outside Crawford's house after the shooting. The witness, a neighbor of Crawford's, said the man did not resemble Stevens in weight or height.
9 Favored Acquittal
That trial ended with nine jurors favoring acquittal.
Judge Lew told Stevens last month that he believed Stevens had committed murder. But the judge said he could not determine whether Stevens committed first-degree or second-degree murder, which require proof of a greater level of intent to kill than manslaughter.
Loveman said the sentence "was what the court thought was fair. Sometimes both sides have to give."
"It's not fun going to state prison," Enright said. "But at least he won't have to go for the rest of his life."