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Neighbor Found Guilty in 2 Slayings : Trial: Burbank man is convicted of murder and attempted murder in attack on 4 women. He could face death penalty.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Burbank man, who shot two women to death and wounded two others in a rampage touched off by a neighborhood dispute that began over the pruning of a rosebush, was convicted Thursday on two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder.

In a verdict that sent mixed signals to both the prosecutor and defense attorney, a jury found Thomas Paul Humenik, 27, guilty of the first-degree murder of one victim, but rejected the allegation that the other three shootings were premeditated. On those counts, the jury returned verdicts of second-degree murder and simple attempted murder, rather than “willful, deliberate, premeditated” attempted murder.

However, because Humenik was convicted of multiple murders, he can be sentenced to death for the May, 1992, attack in which he fired 25 shots at the four women who had gathered at the house next door.

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A second trial will be held to decide between the death penalty and life in prison without the possibility of parole. The same jury will hear that case, beginning Wednesday in Pasadena Superior Court.

“I’m a little disappointed,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Carol Rash, who had argued to the jury that Humenik thought consciously each time he pulled the trigger. “Apparently what they’re saying is that the defendant didn’t begin to premeditate until after shooting the first three victims.”

Although the jury’s rejection of premeditation in three counts does not affect the sentencing options, Rash said she is concerned that it indicates the jury views the crimes less seriously than she had hoped. “They’ve now decided what the case is all about,” she said.

Public Defender Paul Enright, who defended Humenik, was unwilling to draw the same conclusion.

“We’re disappointed in the verdict and we’re very puzzled,” Paul Enright said. “Four people shot, three second-degree, one first-degree. It’s hard to analyze this verdict because the people were all shot at the same time.”

Friends and relatives of the victims, who sat through the five-day trial, said they were pleased by the verdicts.

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“They’re just what we wanted,” said Don Boyd, whose wife was shot 10 times and died in a bedroom of their home. “That sets him up possibly for the gas chamber, which, in my opinion, he deserves. I don’t see giving him any breaks.”

Also shot to death was Sheila Young, 45.

Geraldine Correll, then 70, and Elfrieda Brauchle, then 48, were wounded.

The killings occurred on the same day that Humenik, who lived with his mother and brother on Keystone Street, was found guilty of misdemeanor battery against Boyd, his 75-year-old next-door neighbor.

Boyd filed the charges over an incident in January, 1992, in which Humenik accosted him while Boyd was pruning roses in a planter between the two houses. Humenik, who had accused Boyd of trespassing on Humenik’s property, was put on probation and fined $810.

According to trial testimony, Humenik told his mother and brother the verdict was wrong, and went to his bedroom to get a semiautomatic .22 rifle with a 30-round magazine as the four victims gathered on Boyd’s patio.

Entering his neighbors’ back yard, Humenik shot Young and Correll through a screen enclosure, then followed Merle Boyd and Brauchle into the house, trapping Boyd in a bedroom where he killed her, firing repeatedly into her body.

Correll and Brauchle both testified that Humenik shouted as he shot, “Why did you do it. I’m going to kill you all. I told you not do it.”

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Enright contended that premeditated anger over the court case was not the cause of the shooting, but rather that Humenik flew into an uncontrollable rage because “mistaken or not” he believed the four victims had gathered to laugh at him for losing the case.

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