MARTINEZ (CBS SF) — An Alamo man accused of beating his next-door neighbors and pushing one to her death in the driveway between their homes will stand trial for murder, a judge ruled Friday.
Judge Diana Becton made the ruling in a Martinez courtroom Friday afternoon following a three-day preliminary hearing in the case of Michael Littman, 59, who is charged with murder and assault for striking and ultimately killing Doris Penico, also 59, on Aug. 27, 2012.
Becton set an April 29 arraignment date for the defendant, who remains free on $1.08 million bail after being arrested last August.
Prosecutors allege that Penico’s killing followed years of tense, even hostile, relations between the neighbors due to disputes over an easement and shared driveway between the two couples’ homes in the 3000 block of Stonegate Drive in Alamo.
The tensions escalated when Littman began photographing and filming Doris and Victor Penico using the shared driveway, and even on their own property, according to Deputy District Attorney Molly Manoukian.
A computer forensics detective testified during the preliminary hearing that more than 100 video files, photos and documents of the Penicos were seized from the Littmans’ home.
In 2010, fearing for their safety due to the defendant’s increasingly aggressive behavior, the Penicos had surveillance cameras installed to monitor activity in their driveway, prosecutors said.
Those cameras captured that aggression on several occasions, Manoukian said.
In one incident, the footage shows Littman closely following Doris Penico down the steep driveway between their properties, at one point running after her, the prosecutor said.
More footage shows Littman driving up the driveway directly toward Doris Penico, causing her to jump out of the way, according to Manoukian.
The prosecutor as well as detectives who testified during the preliminary hearing said many of the video clips seized from Littman’s own cameras show him videotaping Penico, even when she protests.
“There’s no question that in this case there was a calculated approach by the defendant to torment and harass Ms. Penico,” Manoukian told the court.
Footage from both the surveillance cameras and from Littman’s phone, which was shown to the court during the hearing, capture the alleged beating that led to Penico’s death last Aug. 27.
That morning, Penico was pulling out of the driveway when she noticed Littman filming her. She then stopped her car and asked him to stop, then called her husband, who exited the house and confronted Penico.
Defense attorney Michael Cardoza said video footage shows Victor Penico approaching Littman, getting close to his face before a fistfight broke out.
During the course of the fight, he said, Doris Penico tripped and fell down the steep driveway, suffering fatal injuries.
Cardoza said that while there “may have been bad blood” between the neighbors, his client never intended to cause great bodily injury to the Penicos, nor did he act with a conscious disregard for human life, as he is charged.
The prosecutor argued, however, that video footage captures a different version of the incident.
Footage taken from the defendant’s camera captures him saying “Stop hitting me,” while surveillance footage shows him punch Victor Penico, causing Penico’s head to snap back.
“He set it up and was feigning a claim of self-defense,” Manoukian said.
The surveillance footage also shows Littman repeatedly pummel Victor Penico and forcefully strike Doris Penico, causing her head to snap back and sending her down the steep concrete driveway. Neither of the victims fought back, she said.
In addition, she said, his past actions and relationship with his neighbors indicate that he intended to harm them.
“This is an attack calculated to produce great bodily injury or death, and it did,” the prosecutor said.
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