Torn between sympathy for an abused son and disgust that he would kill his mother to escape the abuse, a panel of Orange County jurors convicted a 22-year-old man of first-degree murder Friday.
It took more than 15 hours of deliberations before jurors agreed that Jason Victor Bautista intended to beat and strangle his mentally ill mother in their Riverside apartment, before cutting off her head and hands and dumping the torso off Ortega Highway near San Juan Capistrano.
“He had a horrible upbringing, he was on the verge of making it, and he made a bad decision,” said juror Patty Clemons, a mother of three who lives in Brea. “We wanted to believe him. We wanted to give him a way out. We just didn’t have one.”
After the clerk read the verdict, Bautista stared at the jurors as they were individually polled about the decision. He twisted his lips and nodded at the end, but otherwise had no expression.
His uncle from Illinois, who, with his wife, sat through the three-week trial, put his head into his hands when the verdict was announced. The couple declined to comment outside the Santa Ana courtroom where their nephew will be sentenced April 8. He faces 25 years to life in prison.
The jurors -- 11 women and one man -- were visibly shaken throughout the proceedings. One woman with trembling hands stepped into the elevator afterward and said it was the worst ordeal of her life.
Another juror, Lauri Raine of Aliso Viejo, began crying as she described having to view the photos of Jane Bautista’s head and hands.
“What happened to Jane Bautista was horrific,” said Raine, 35, who works in pharmaceutical research. “The pictures that we saw were beyond anything I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Jason Bautista took the stand during the trial and said he accidentally choked his mother while defending himself from a knife during one of her rages. It was a claim that the evidence didn’t support, jurors said.
Autopsy photos showed bruises on the woman’s chin and cheek, and the coroner testified that the area above her eyes had been crushed so badly that the bones disintegrated when he touched them. “The beating was too severe to be, ‘Oh, I’m a little upset,’ ” Clemons said.
Both jurors and prosecutor Michael Murray credited an Oceanside security guard with tying Bautista to the crime, even after he dismembered his mother’s body to conceal her identity -- a tactic he said he saw on an episode of “The Sopranos.”
Bautista and his then-15-year-old half-brother, who also faced a murder charge until he agreed to testify, drove their mother’s body to a construction site in Oceanside the night of the Jan. 14, 2003, slaying. They carried the body, wrapped in a sleeping bag, over to a dumpster but returned it to the car when the guard asked what they were doing.
When he stopped them, Pete Martinez testified, a foot poked out of the sleeping bag. The sons left, and Martinez called police with their license plate number.
“To me, Pete Martinez is the hero,” Murray said. “Without him and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, this still might have been an unsolved case.”
Officials eventually connected the car with a torso found in Orange County the next morning, then to Jason Bautista, a student at Cal State San Bernardino who spoke often to friends of his hatred for his “crazy” mother.
Testimony about Jane Bautista’s mental illness made jurors feel sorry for her son, but they said it had no impact on their decision.
“It doesn’t matter,” Clemons said. “It doesn’t mean she needed to die.”
Clemons said the trial was especially difficult for those jurors with children.
“As a mom, it was devastating,” she said. “My own kids do stupid things. I could almost hear Jane saying from the grave, ‘It’s my baby. Don’t hurt him.’ We just didn’t have a choice.”