Inmate guilty of jailhouse murder

Times Staff Writer

A jailed homicide suspect was found guilty Monday of murdering another inmate who was set to testify against him.

Santiago Pineda, 25, was convicted by a downtown Los Angeles jury of two counts of murder. Pineda strangled Raul Tinajero in a cell at the Men's Central Jail on April 20, 2004.

Tinajero's jailhouse slaying was one of several that triggered scrutiny of security in the system. A county review showed that Pineda roamed undetected throughout the jail from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. the day of the murder.

Pineda entered Tinajero's cell by shadowing an inmate returning from a parole hearing, the review found. He ordered others in the cell to turn their backs as he strangled Tinajero, it said.

Both the prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Lesley Klein, and defense attorney Charles C. Patton declined to comment on the verdict, noting that the penalty phase of the trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 2. Pineda could face the death penalty.

Tinajero, 20, was to be a key witness against Pineda in the 2002 murder of Juan Armenta. Pineda stole Armenta's car and ran him over with it.

Pineda was found guilty of both murders by the jury, which had deliberated for nearly five days.

The convictions included the special circumstances of murder while committing a robbery, murder of a witness and multiple murders.

During the trial, a model of a jail cell was built in the courtroom to re-create the crime scene. Pineda's lawyers argued that the inmate witnesses were not credible.

Tinajero's family filed a $35-million civil rights suit and accepted a $700,000 settlement from the county in 2005.


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