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Deadlocked Jurors in Ornelas Murder Case to Try Again

Times Staff Writer

Jurors in the trial of a young man accused of deliberately running down and killing a Newport Beach mother reported that they were “hopelessly deadlocked,” but Judge Luis A. Cardenas on Thursday ordered them to resume deliberations this morning.

The seven-man, five-woman jury has been deliberating since Tuesday morning in the case, which went to trial Feb. 28 in Orange County Superior Court in Westminster.

At issue is the fate of Danny David Ornelas, 19, of Huntington Park. Ornelas is charged with second-degree murder in the Sept. 1 death of Debbie Killelea. Killelea, 37, was fatally injured when a car driven by Ornelas struck her as she stood in a narrow alley behind her home on Balboa Peninsula.

Prosecutor Thomas Goethals urged the jury in his final arguments on Monday to return a guilty verdict on the murder charge. But Ornelas’ defense attorney, Ralph Bencangey, pleaded with the jury to render no verdict harsher than manslaughter.

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The jury, as instructed by Judge Cardenas, has five options for a verdict: It can find the defendant guilty of second-degree murder; guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated; gross vehicular manslaughter; simple vehicular manslaughter, or not guilty of any crime.

The judge and attorneys did not disclose what issue or verdict was dividing the jurors, who indicated they were split 8 to 4.

“I can’t say very much,” Bencangey said outside the courtroom.

“We’re going to talk about definitions tomorrow (Friday) and see what definitions are troubling the jurors. There are a couple of phrases that they’re having problems with. I’m not going to talk about them specifically.”

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Prosecutor Goethals also declined to discuss what definitions in the law are puzzling the split jury. “I still believe we can get a verdict,” he said.

Jurors informed Cardenas about 2:45 p.m. Thursday that they were “hopelessly deadlocked.” But when Cardenas began questioning them in open court, jury foreman Steven Bischke told the judge that he thought progress toward a verdict might be made if the judge gave the jurors additional instructions. Bischke told the judge that the jurors had taken three votes before declaring themselves deadlocked at 8 to 4.

Another juror, Donald M. Hunsicker, also indicated, by raising his hand, that the judge might assist the jury. Cardenas met briefly in closed chambers with Hunsicker.

Immediately afterward, Cardenas returned to the bench and ordered the jury to resume deliberations today. He told the jurorsthat he would provide them additional instructions in the law at 10 a.m.

Ornelas, who is free on $100,000 bail, sat morosely in the court Thursday afternoon, his head held in one of his hands. Earlier, he said that waiting for the jury to decide his fate “is indescribable.”


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