The California Supreme Court refused Tuesday to review the case of a former Riverside County woman convicted of fatally stabbing a woman in unincorporated South Whittier and robbing the night watchman of a nearby store.
Vanessa Rebecca Celaya was found guilty of second-degree murder for stabbing Michelle Young, 31, of Los Angeles, after a verbal confrontation in the 11500 block of Obert Avenue on Sept. 5, 2014.
Celaya was also convicted of residential robbery involving the night watchman, who woke up to noises on the roof before she entered his dark bedroom in the middle of the night with blood from the murder victim on her face.
In a Sept. 12 ruling, a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that there was insufficient evidence to Celaya’s conviction on the robbery charge.
Shortly after the killing, Celaya demanded a change of clothing from the night watchman at a nearby tire shop, according to Deputy District Attorney Andrea Mader.
Celaya — who was on the roof of the business when sheriff’s deputies arrived — jumped off and tried to run, but did not get far.
A sheriff’s sergeant who watched security video footage that showed Celaya climbing a ladder up to the roof while holding a plastic bag found the bag inside a stack of tires on the roof, and the DNA profile from a knife found in the bag was consistent with Young as a major contributor and Celaya as a minor contributor, according to the appellate court panel’s ruling.
The appellate panel also rejected the defense’s contention that a judge erred in denying a claim by Celaya — who identified herself as Hispanic and Caucasian in a police interview — that the prosecution’s use of peremptory challenges to excuse four Hispanic potential jurors from the jury was based on group bias.
“The face of the record provides non-discriminatory reasons for excusing three of the four prospective jurors, without any reference to the justifications given by the prosecutor,” the justices found, noting that the prosecutor “did not strike most or all of the Hispanics” from the pool of potential panelists.
Celaya, who lived in Rubidoux, was sentenced in March 2016 to 23 years to life in state prison.
–City News Service