Courtroom Round-up

Ventura County murder, manslaughter cases

By Daphne Khalida Kilea 01/31/2013

Jose Escobar-Monterrozo
of
Simi Valley
Just about a year after his arrest, Jose Escobar-Monterrozo, 36, was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Escobar-Monterrozo, was arrested on Jan. 25, 2012, as a suspect in the murder of his 33-year-old live-in girlfriend, Claudia Menjivar. She had allegedly been having an affair with an ex-boyfriend. It is reported that Escobar-Monterrozo repeatedly hit her with a steering wheel lock, eventually causing her death in the Simi Valley home they shared. The couple’s 5-year-old son was apparently present during the homicide, and was dropped off at a neighbor’s house by Escobar-Monterrozo before he fled the crime scene. Menjivar’s body was discovered by her 15-year-old daughter.

Escobar-Monterrozo was initially charged with two counts of felony child abuse, residential burglary and felony murder, with a special allegation of the use of a deadly weapon during the commission of the crime. After the preliminary hearing in October, new evidence caused the District Attorney’s office to reduce the murder charges to voluntary manslaughter. On Dec. 4, Escobar-Monterrozo pleaded guilty to all charges.

He is scheduled to be deported back to his native Guatemala after serving his prison sentence.

 

 

Christopher Blankenship
of
Santa Paula
Former reserve police officer Christopher Blankenship, 45, will appear in court for an early disposition conference on Feb. 11 at 1:30 p.m. in courtroom 12. His recent hearing was postponed after his attorney requested more time. Blankenship is currently free on bail.

On July 25, 2012, he was driving his 1984 Jeep Wrangler with three passengers when he allegedly lost control of the vehicle while maneuvering a turn on South Mountain Lookout Road, between Santa Paula and Somis. One of the passengers, 33-year-old Santa Paula police officer Kimberley Hemminger, was partially ejected and trapped under the vehicle. She died at the scene. According to the California Highway Patrol, none of the four occupants of the jeep had been wearing a seatbelt. Blankenship was arrested on suspicion of DUI. Following the arrest, he posted the $50,000 bail and immediately resigned from the Santa Paula Police Department, where he had worked as a reserve police officer for 10 years. Prior to that, he had volunteered with the Ventura County Police and Sheriff’s Reserve Officer Academy.

Blankenship is charged with felony DUI and vehicular manslaughter. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on Nov. 30.


Joshua Graham Packer
of Ventura

The trial of 23-year-old accused murder suspect Joshua Graham Packer was delayed due to various motions. On Jan. 25, the next three upcoming court dates were confirmed as previously set, and Packer’s attorneys requested a continuance.

Packer was arrested in 2010 for the May 2009 murder of Brock and Davina Husted (who was pregnant). He allegedly stabbed the couple multiple times and robbed them in their Ventura home, which he also reportedly burglarized.

In May 2012, however, DNA evidence revealed that he had apparently forced Davina Husted to engage in oral sex prior to the homicide. This led to a second indictment, which Packer’s attorneys fought to have dismissed due to the alleged legal errors in the presentation of evidence. The motion was denied, as was the motion to dismiss the presiding judge, which had been filed out of concern that Packer would be unable to receive a fair trial.

The trial, which was set to begin in August 2012, was postponed by the judge after Packer’s attorneys requested more time to prepare, following the consolidation of the two indictments. The judge also issued a gag order, forbidding all involved attorneys and staff to discuss the case with the media. On Sept. 4, a recusal motion was filed by Packer’s attorneys to remove Deputy District Attorney Mike Frawley from the case, citing conflict of interest that would interfere with a fair trial. In November, the motion was denied. Both parties continue to present and appeal various motions. Currently, the jury trial is scheduled to begin on March 4.

Packer is charged with three counts of murder with attached special allegations for the use of a firearm while committing burglary and robbery plus forcible oral copulation on Davina Husted with a knife. He has entered a plea of not guilty to all charges; the district attorney is seeking the death penalty.

A motion for discovery will be heard on Feb.1 at 1:30 p.m. in courtroom 25, where the judge is also expected to rule on the recent request for a continuance.


Gina Drake of Ventura
Gina Drake, 46, entered a plea of not guilty at her late December arraignment, which had been repeatedly postponed since her arrest. She is charged with felony murder, with the special allegation of using a knife during the crime.

Drake is accused of fatally stabbing her aunt, Wendy DiRodio, in the Ventura home the 61-year-old licensed therapist and author shared with her parents. The murder she allegedly committed occurred on 3, 2009 ,and there had been no arrests until Drake’s in May 2012. Her husband, a Ventura police officer, filed for divorce following the revelation that she was a suspect. The motive for the alleged homicide is still unknown, and Drake reportedly invoked her Fifth Amendment right, protecting her from self-incrimination, when she was apparently questioned by her former husband regarding the murder. She is facing a maximum penalty of 26 years to life in prison.

Her attorney’s previous requests for bail reduction to $510,000 were denied and she is currently free on the initial $1 million amount.

An early disposition conference has been scheduled for April 4 at 11 a.m. in courtroom 12 at the Ventura County Superior Court.

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