The California Supreme Court refused Wednesday to hear the case of a transient who is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for the stabbing and beating deaths of an 89-year-old man and a 27-year-old woman in the senior citizen’s Culver City home more than seven years ago.
Zackariah Lehnen was convicted in November 2015 of first-degree murder for the May 2011 killings of Lucien Bergez and Erica Escobar.
Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders, along with an allegation that Lehnen used a knife during the commission of the crime.
In a May 30 ruling, a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that the trial court erred when it admitted evidence of Lehnen’s jailhouse confession to a police informant, in which the defendant admitted that he killed Bergez and Escobar.
“Given that Lehnen was confiding in someone whom he believed to be a friend when he confessed to the killings, his statements were voluntarily and free from compulsion,” the appellate court panel found in its 20-page ruling.
The justices also rejected the defense’s contention that jurors should have been instructed on the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter involving Escobar’s killing.
The panel found that Lehnen’s jailhouse statements “showed that he brutally attacked Escobar shortly after meeting her because she refused to engage in sexual intercourse with him.”
“The evidence further showed that, after Lehnen began the attack by hitting Escobar, he proceeded to repeatedly kick her face and body and stab her with a knife as she lay helpless on the floor,” the justices found.
Escobar was found dead on the living room of Bergez’s home, and Bergez was found dead in the kitchen on May 3, 2011. The two might have been killed as much as two days earlier, authorities said.
Lehnen had met Bergez in the neighborhood about a year earlier and had gone to his home on occasion to try to get work, Deputy District Attorney Keri Modder said after the verdict.
Escobar hadn’t met Bergez before and was in the “wrong place” at the wrong time when she met Lehnen shortly before the attack, Modder said.