San Jose Jury Weighs Landmark Death Penalty Case

By Margarita Kitova
|  Tuesday, Jun 29, 2010  |  Updated 2:06 PM PDT
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San Jose Jury Weighs Landmark Death Penalty Case

Rodrigo Paniagua Jr., 33, of East San Jose could become the first convict to face the death penalty at a local court in 15 years.

A Santa Clara County jury in June convicted Paniagua on four counts of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of his pregnant girlfriend, the couple's 5-month-old fetus and their two young daughters in October 2005. Paniagua was also found guilty of arson because after killing his family in their sleep, he set their bodies on fire and went out for a smoke.

District Attorney Prosecutor Matt Braker said they completed the penalty phase yesterday and the jury is still deliberating today on whether Paniagua should get death or life without parole.

Braker says Paniagua has a record of domestic violence, drug possession and burglary. The ex-Marine subjected his girlfriend, Leticia Chavez, 29, to physical abuse many times and belted his daughters AnaLisa, 3, and Adrina, 6.

Paniagua's attorney, Traci Owens, is using his terrible upbringing in his defense. His own father abused him, which Owens argues gave him paranoia and psychotic delusions.

The last time a local prosecutor, Peter Waite, convinced jury to recommend the death penalty was 15 years ago when two men were sentenced for stabbing and strangling to death a 73-year-old woman. The pair conviced in that case are still waiting for their sentence to be applied at San Quentin.

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