Jury Deliberations Continue in Murder Trial

July 5, 2007 No Comments

Original Headline (below): Man Accused Of Bar Brawl Murder Pleads Not Guilty

07/5/2007 Beach and Bay Press

Jury deliberations continued this week in the murder trial of Michael Sullivan, who is charged with stabbing Jonathan Lefler-Panela outside a Pacific Beach restaurant in Jan. 2006.

Sullivan, 27, testified he stabbed Lefler-Panela in self-defense after the victim tackled him and bit him on the nose outside the Sam’s by the Sea restaurant. The prosecutor said Sullivan stabbed Lefler-Panela at least 14 times and it was Sullivan who threw the first punch inside the restaurant before security personnel ejected both men. The San Diego Superior Court jury began deliberations on June 28. They have not asked for any testimony to be read back, but they have asked legal questions in several notes which Judge Frank Brown has responded back to them.

At press time on Tuesday, jurors went into their fourth day of discussions. July 4 is a court holiday, so the jury will resume deliberations on Thursday, July 5.

After the defense rested, the prosecution on June 26 presented a medical expert witness in rebuttal that said the lacerations on Sullivan’s nose were not from a human bite wound.

“It didn’t resemble any bite I’ve ever seen,” said Dr. Norman Sperber, who has conducted many autopsies in his career as a pathologist. “It requires a certain amount of strength.”

Sperber said he did not personally examine Sullivan, but relied on photographs of the injury. Deputy District Attorney Paul Myers said in his opening statement the wound on Sullivan’s nose did not come from human teeth.

Sullivan testified that Lefler-Panela tried to bite off his nose during the fight that began after Lefler-Panela and his girlfriend made hostile stares at him in the restaurant. Myers said “a stupid staring contest” occurred, but was initiated by Sullivan.

 


Murder trial begins with self defense claim

by NEAL PUTNAM
June 14, 2007

A Pacific Beach man was bitten on the nose by a man he fought with and was on the ground outside a local restaurant before he pulled a knife and repeatedly stabbed a man on top of him in self-defense, the man’s attorney told a jury when his murder trial opened on June 6.

But the prosecutor said the nose injury was not caused by human teeth and there was no justification to stab Jonathan Lefler-Panela, 25, on Jan. 8, 2006, outside Sam’s by the Sea restaurant, 4315 Ocean Blvd. Deputy District Attorney Paul Myers said Michael David Sullivan, 27, “sucker-punched” the victim inside the restaurant before both men were ejected by restaurant security personnel before 2 a.m.

The different portraits of the slaying were introduced in lawyers’ opening statements June 6 to the seven-woman, five-man jury, which will hear testimony for the next two weeks in San Diego Superior Court, with Judge Frank Brown presiding. Sullivan has pleaded not guilty.

Myers said “a stupid staring contest that eventually led to murder” was the catalyst for the crime. Sullivan bumped into the victim’s girlfriend, and harsh words were exchanged. Myers said there was “some element of staring back” by the victim before the fight.

Kerry Steigerwalt, Sullivan’s attorney, said Sullivan struck the first blow with a “pre-emptive punch” to Lefler-Panela in response to the hostile looks both men exchanged. After both were ejected, Sullivan tried to leave, but Lefler-Panela took off his shirt and “slammed him into the ground,” Steigerwalt said.

Steigerwalt said Lefler-Panela bit Sullivan’s nose and was “mauling him” while the victim’s girlfriend kicked him on the ground. Sullivan panicked, Steigerwalt said, and he pulled a knife from his back pocket and stabbed Lefler-Panela repeatedly in self-defense. Bloody pictures of both Sullivan and Lefler-Panela were shown to the jury.

Steigerwalt described Lefler-Panela as “a trained fighter” who was skilled in boxing. He said witnesses would testify that he talked about being involved in street fights. Myers said the victim was a weightlifter and that he and Sullivan used the same gym.

The prosecutor said Lefler-Panela suffered “almost 17 wounds, depending on how you count.” He received a fatal wound to the heart and “massive wounds to the torso,” Myers said.

Sullivan’s injuries to his nose were superficial, and an expert will testify they were not caused by human teeth, said Myers. Sullivan’s nose injury was examined, and he was released from a hospital without requiring stitches, he added.

Steigerwalt said Sullivan panicked “as he was being beaten that night” because he had a birth defect known as pectus excavatum, which limits breathing from the lungs. Sullivan was in the U.S. Marines but received an honorable discharge for the medical condition, as he had “a severe case of it,” said Steigerwalt.

“Almost everybody is drinking. Alcohol affects your responses your brain,” Steigerwalt said.

The first witness, Joey Carreno, of Pacific Beach, said he was a former roommate and friend of Lefler-Panela and saw Sullivan throw the first punch in the restaurant. He said he didn’t see any “dirty looks” that lawyers said were exchanged between both men before the fight. He said Lefler-Panela was not violent and added he never heard about him being in any fights.

Sullivan had been free on $1 million bond last year, but Brown raised his bail to $5 million, and he remains in county jail.

Man Accused Of Bar Brawl Murder Pleads Not Guilty
Michael Sullivan Accused Of Stabbing Man 15 Times

01/11/06, Channel10.comSAN DIEGO — A man accused of fatally stabbing another man during a fight outside a Pacific Beach bar pleaded not guilty to one count of murder and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon.

Deputy District Attorney Cheryl Sueing-Jones said Michael David Sullivan, 26, stabbed Jonathan Thomas Lefler-Panela 15 times as the victim walked to his car outside Sam’s by the Sea restaurant around 2 a.m Sunday. Superior Court Judge David Szumowski set Sullivan’s bail at $1 million. Sueing-Jones said the defendant was caught on videotape inside the bar hitting the 25-year-old victim in the face, seemingly unprovoked. She said the two men were escorted out of the bar, and the victim was fatally stabbed as he walked to his car.

Sullivan fled but surrendered to police 15 hours later, sporting a recent bloody nose and a black eye, the prosecutor said. Outside court, Sueing-Jones said the assault charges were for injuries suffered by the victim’s girlfriend and a bouncer who tried to break up the fatal encounter.

Defense attorney Ron Rockwell told the judge that his client was pinned to the ground and viciously attacked outside the bar. Sullivan nearly had his nose chewed off and may have been stabbed himself, Rockwell said. “This is a strong self-defense case,” Rockwell told the judge. Outside court, the attorney said Sullivan “knew of” of the victim from working out at local gyms. He said the two were acquaintances.

There were some “mad-dogging” stares being exchanged inside the bar, but other than that, Sullivan doesn’t know what prompted the altercation and subsequent fatal fight, Rockwell told reporters. The attorney said he was surprised charges were filed. He said Sullivan is a local tattoo artist and former Marine who lives in the Pacific Beach area. “My client was in huge fear of dying,” Rockwell said outside court. “He felt like he was being killed.”

Rockwell said witnesses called his office immediately to report that Sullivan was pinned to the ground and beaten.

Friends and family from both sides packed the courtroom and spilled into the hallways after the brief hearing. It’s always a very emotional event when there’s been a crime of violence and a young person has lost his life,” the prosecutor said outside court. The victim’s support group is devastated by the loss, Sueing-Jones said. “They’re all just heartbroken over it,” she said.

Sullivan faces 31 years to life in prison if convicted, the prosecutor said. A preliminary hearing was set for Jan. 25.

Assault

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