The Ronald Regan State Building in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by John Schreiber.
The Ronald Regan State Building in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by John Schreiber.

A state appellate court panel on Friday upheld a man’s conviction for murdering his mother, whose butchered remains were found in a freezer in the Maywood apartment they shared.

The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that the judge in Moises Meraz-Espinoza’s trial erred in admitting photographs of the dismembered remains of Amelia Espinoza after her son strangled her on Feb. 2, 2011.

The appellate court justices noted in their 14-page ruling that “the prosecution sought to prove that the murder was premeditated, and was, in fact, a ritual murder consistent with certain Satanic beliefs.”

“Evidence regarding the state in which Espinoza’s body was discovered was relevant, and indeed critical, to that theory,” the appellate court panel found.

The justices said the disposition of the body and the photographs of the remains were “gruesome,” but ruled that they “cannot find that the prejudicial effect of the photographs clearly outweighed their probative value.”

“The dismemberment of the body in this case was unusual. Evidence regarding the extremity of the actions taken was highly probative of the prosecution’s theory that Espinoza’s death was the result of a ritual murder,” the ruling says. “The evidence was also relevant to defeat any argument that what happened was an unplanned killing, followed by efforts to render the body unidentifiable.”

The justices also rejected the defense’s claim that jurors should not have heard an expert’s opinion that the state of the victim’s body as it was discovered at the crime scene was consistent with a ritual killing.

The appellate court panel found that “the evidence of defendant’s guilt of first-degree murder was overwhelming.”

The 42-year-old woman was skinned and dismembered after she died, and her internal organs had been removed. The woman’s skull and numerous bones were found inside a backpack in the apartment, and bags containing her remains were found inside a refrigerator.

Meraz-Espinoza walked into the Huntington Park police station two days later at a cousin’s urging and told police he had killed his mother and dismembered her body.

Meraz-Espinoza was convicted of murder in June 2013 and sentenced the following month to 25 years to life in prison, with Superior Court Judge Thomas I. McKnew Jr. telling the defendant then that it was “a sentence that you certainly deserve.”

Meraz-Espinoza’s trial attorney, Jonathan Roberts, questioned at the time whether the killing was related to Satanic worship as argued by the prosecution.

“There’s a lot of dispute about that,” he said, contending that the prosecution relied on a “50-year-old understanding of (the) church of Satan.”

City  News Service

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