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2nd Trial on Penalty for Killer Begins

Times Staff Writer

It took Orange County jurors less than three hours last year to decide that Maurice Steskal was a killer, that he had sprayed the parking lot of a Lake Forest 7-Eleven with an assault rifle to kill an Orange County sheriff’s deputy because he hated cops.

Figuring out how Steskal should pay for his crime has not been so easy. The jury that convicted Steskal of first-degree murder deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of life without parole in December 2002.

On Thursday, a new panel of jurors heard testimony on whether Steskal, who defense lawyers said suffered from paranoia, should receive the death penalty or life without parole for the murder of Brad Riches, a 34-year-old sheriff’s deputy killed in 1999 moments after he pulled into the convenience store parking lot.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Frank Fasel’s 11th-floor courtroom was filled with Riches’ relatives and friends as prosecutors called several witnesses to the stand, including Orange County Sheriff’s Sgt. Adam Powell.

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Powell testified that a few hours after the killing in the early hours of June 12, 1999, he spotted a white Plymouth that resembled one that had been seen leaving the 7-Eleven after the shooting. Powell said he waited for backup officers to move into position before he pulled the Plymouth over.

Steskal, wearing a white-collared shirt, sat quietly in the courtroom and displayed no emotion as Powell recalled arresting him. Powell testified that he feared for his safety because “it was a brutal killing.”

Powell said that after the car stopped, the driver -- Steskal’s crying wife -- followed police orders, raising her hands and stepping out of the car.

Steskal, Powell testified, did not. “What’s this about?” Powell recalled Steskal asking.

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Steskal eventually gave up peacefully.

The second attempt to complete the penalty phase of the trial began Tuesday when attorneys picked a jury and three alternates.

So far, jurors have seen a security videotape from the store and heard 15 witnesses. The trial is expected to end Dec. 4.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Bryan Brown declined to comment. Public Defender Mark Davis, citing what he said was a gag order, also declined to comment.

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Times staff writer Scott Martelle contributed to this report.


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