OAKLAND (CBS SF) — A 20-year-old Hayward man was convicted Monday of first-degree murder and arson for the strangulation death of a Castro Valley woman whose home was also set on fire.
Jurors, who deliberated for only half a day, also convicted Cody Nicosia of three special circumstances murder allegations for the death of 58-year-old Barbara Latiolais on Oct. 17, 2012: murder during a robbery, murder during a burglary and murder while lying in wait.
The jury’s verdicts mean that Nicosia, who put his head down on the defense table when they were announced, faces life in prison without the parole when he’s sentenced by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jon Rolefson on March 4.
Prosecutor Adam Maldonado told jurors that Nicosia and co-defendant Christian Birdsall, who is scheduled to be prosecuted separately next month, committed the crime because they wanted to steal guns, jewelry, rare coins and cash from the home in the 2400 block of San Carlos Avenue in Castro Valley that Latiolais shared with her longtime boyfriend, retired San Francisco firefighter Michael Rice.
Birdsall was only 16 at the time of the incident but is being prosecuted as an adult. Nicosia turned 18 only three weeks before the crime.
Maldonado said Nicosia and Birdsall planned their crime for Oct. 17, 2012, because they knew Rice was out of the state at that time and he said they were familiar with Latiolais’ house because Birdsall had done yard work for her.
Birdsall attended Redwood High School in Castro Valley and was living in Hayward with Nicosia, who graduated from Castro Valley High School in June 2012, and Nicosia’s father, according to Alameda County sheriff’s officials who arrested the two suspects.
Maldonado said the two teens arrived at the home around 8 a.m. and waited in a crawlspace for four or five hours before finally going inside and attacking Latiolais in her living room.
The prosecutor said Nicosia, with help from Birdsall, strangled Latiolais for about four or five minutes and then stopped because he thought she was dead.
The two youths then started stealing guns and cash from another part of the house but went back to the living room after they heard noises there and discovered that she was still breathing, although she was motionless, according to Maldonado.
Nicosia decided to “finish the job” by finding a long rope, wrapping it around Latiolais’ neck four times and “choking the life out of her,” with Birdsall’s help, Maldonado said.
The teens then returned to ransacking the house, eventually drove away in her Volvo and had a late lunch at a nearby Chipotle restaurant, he said.
But at about 10:30 p.m. that night, Nicosia and Birdsall returned to Latiolais’ house because they realized that their fingerprints were all over it, the prosecutor said.
Nicosia poured gasoline all over the house and then lit the house on fire “to help them conceal evidence of the crime,” Maldonado said.
Nicosia and Birdsall were arrested several days after the incident.
Nicosia’s lawyer, Richard Humphrey, said in his closing argument last Thursday that Nicosia acted under duress because Birdsall coerced him into committing the crimes by putting a knife to his throat and threatening to kill him unless he participated.
Humphrey said Nicosia shouldn’t be found guilty of the special circumstances murder allegations because of the duress he was under.
He also said jurors could acquit Nicosia of the murder charge if they believed that he only intended to put Latiolais to sleep and didn’t mean to kill her.
But Maldonado said he believes Nicosia truly intended to kill Latiolais and there’s no evidence to support Humphrey’s contention that Nicosia acted under duress.
Nicosia represented himself at the beginning of his trial and gave a brief opening statement but then let Humphrey, who has been his attorney for two years, take over his case.
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