State Supreme Court justices Thursday upheld the death penalty for a 48-year-old man who sexually assaulted, strangled and dismembered a 12-year-old boy in La Habra 20 years ago.
John Samuel Ghobrial was convicted of killing Juan Delgado in March 1998.
Delgado was a sixth-grader at Washington Middle School in La Habra, where he became acquainted with the defendant, who would panhandle in the area. The victim bought a Snickers bar for Ghobrial when he saw him begging for food in December 1997.
A witness told authorities that he overheard the defendant tell the victim, “I am going to kill you. I will kill you and eat your pee-pee,” outside a liquor store where they had been horsing around, the justices wrote in the opinion.
Ghobrial’s attorneys argued in the appeal that the defendant’s due process rights were violated when a hearing was not called to examine his mental competency to assist in his defense during the death penalty trial. Multiple experts testified the defendant had schizoaffective disorder, with some saying he heard voices telling him to mutilate his own genitals.
But the justices found there was no evidence that he was not competent to assist in his defense during his trial. His attorneys used his history of mental illness to argue life in prison without parole was a more appropriate punishment.
Ghobrial cut up the remains of his victim and put the pieces in concrete cylinders, leaving those in various places.
He was sentenced to death April 10, 2002.
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