A Fresno man was found guilty Wednesday of second-degree murder in the killing of an unarmed man – a gruesome stabbing that was recorded when the accused killer inadvertently made a 911 butt-dial call to the Fresno police dispatch center.
Christian Joel Medina, 20, appeared disappointed when the verdict was announced in Fresno Superior Court.
During the trial, he testified that he acted in self-defense when he killed 27-year-old Leonel Ortega on Feb. 19, 2013, because he feared for his safety.
He now faces 16 years to life in prison when he is sentenced June 2.
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The jury of seven men and five women deliberated nine hours over two days before reaching the verdict.
The killing happened Feb. 19, 2013, at the Casa Blanca Apartments on Marks Avenue near McKinley Avenue, west of Highway 99.
The killing happened at the Casa Blanca Apartments on Marks Avenue near McKinley Avenue, west of Highway 99.
During the trial, prosecutor William Terrence contended Medina committed first-degree murder because Ortega was unarmed when he was stabbed five times, including three times in the back. He also contended that Medina killed Ortega to promote the Norteño criminal street gang.
Terrence told the jury that Medina is a West Fresno Norteño, a subset of the larger Norteño gang, with many gang tattoos on his neck, face and body to show his allegiance. Ortega was not in a gang.
But Fresno defense attorney Linden Lindahl told the jury that Medina left the West Fresno Norteño gang after his best friend, Joe Anthony Rodriguez, was killed by gang violence in January 2013. Lindahl said it was undisputed that Ortega had methamphetamine in his system and was the initial aggressor when he confronted Medina and said: “What’s up, dog?” The phrase is a challenge to fight.
Lindahl said Medina had to defend himself against a much older and bigger man. Ortega was 6-foot-1 and 233 pounds, Lindahl said. Medina is listed in jail records as 5-foot-10 and 121 pounds.
In reaching a verdict, the jury rejected the prosecution’s first-degree murder recommendation. Jurors also rejected the prosecution’s allegation that the killing was to benefit or promote a criminal street gang.
Christian Joel Medina was 17 years old when he was arrested after the killing. He was tried as an adult because of the seriousness of the crime.
Medina was 17 years old when he was arrested after the killing. He was tried as an adult because of the seriousness of the crime.
Terrence said police learned of the killing when Medina inadvertently made a 911 call from his cellphone while he was stabbing Ortega. During the trial, jurors heard the 911 call several times.
Medina’s inadvertent 911 call led police to the crime scene, Terrence said. There, a friend of Medina’s told police that Medina was in an altercation and armed with a knife.
Police later searched Medina’s room at the group home where he was living and found a 10-inch knife in his closet, Terrence said. After he was read his Miranda rights against self-incrimination, Medina told police he stabbed Ortega in self-defense. Medina also told police that he had never met Ortega and started fighting with him after hearing Ortega say, “What’s up, dog?”