A Sylmar man was found guilty Friday in San Fernando Superior Court of murdering and raping his ex-wife, despite the lack of any physical evidence directly linking the man to the crime.
A six-man, six-woman jury took less than three days to decide that William Edward Stevens, 50, was guilty of murder with special circumstances, rape and sodomy in connection with the Feb. 9, 1990, slaying of Rufina Stevens, 47, of Sun Valley.
The same jury will begin hearing testimony on Tuesday to decide whether Stevens should spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole or be executed.
When the verdict was announced, Stevens' son-in-law raised his hands and let out a muffled yell.
Stevens' daughter, Nicole, said outside the courtroom that she was relieved that it was over, but "it's kind of sad."
Stevens showed no reaction as the verdicts were read, but his attorneys, Vivien McGuire and Patrick Atkinson, were visibly disappointed.
"I think they were influenced by his background," Atkinson said outside the courtroom. She was referring to Stevens' prior conviction for sexually abusing one of his two daughters and his admission to having assaulted his ex-wife when they were married.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeff Jonas said that despite the lack of any witnesses or physical evidence linking Stevens to the crime, the jury reached the appropriate decision by focusing on circumstantial evidence.
He cited the statement of a jail informant who testified that while they were awaiting court appearances, Stevens admitted committing the murder.
Jonas also said that Stevens made "Freudian slips" in statements to police that were in essence confessions, because Stevens knew things that only the killer could have known, such as the fact that the woman had been strangled before being hit by a train.
Rufina Stevens' mangled, nude body had been placed face down on railroad tracks near her Sun Valley home and then hit by a freight train.
Stevens had also told police that he once told his daughter that if he was to kill his ex-wife he would use a piano wire, because it was more difficult to trace than a gun or knife.
Jonas said he believes that Stevens strangled his ex-wife with a piano wire while an accomplice raped and sodomized her. Police have not been able to identify the accomplice.
During the nearly two-months-long trial, Stevens--who served a jail term for molesting the youngest of his two daughters and later two separate prison terms for violating parole--admitted assaulting his ex-wife.
Jonas argued in closing statements that Stevens killed her because "he knew he had lost ultimate control over her." Stevens has maintained his innocence, claiming he was home asleep at the time of the murder.
The defense hired a private pathologist who testified that Rufina Stevens' neck wounds could not have been caused by a piano wire, but rather were caused by a smaller instrument such as a wire survival saw.
A neighbor of Rufina Stevens testified that on the day of the murder she had left a wire saw with a transient living in a trailer on her property so that he could cut tiles for her. The woman, Frances Santos, testified that the next morning her wire saw was missing and that she has not seen the transient since that day.