Steven Cisneros, who admitted to a Santa Barbara jury last week that he stabbed roommate Lawrence Kaiser to death, but claimed the action was in self-defense, was found guilty of first degree murder Monday morning.
The jury, which began deliberating Friday afternoon, October 6, and came to a verdict not long into deliberations Monday morning, also found the special allegation of the use of a knife to be true, which will add a year to his sentence. Another allegation is that Cisneros has a previous strike on his record from a 2003 felony assault in Ventura County. If at sentencing Judge Brian Hill finds that allegation to be true, Cisneros will be facing 56 years to life in prison.
Kaiser, 45, was killed in a dorm-style bedroom at the Lighthouse sober living home at 231 West Haley Street on December 11, 2008. He had only been there for three days when he died in the room he shared with Cisneros. “I’m pleased justice was served on behalf of Mr. Kaiser,” prosecutor Mary Barron said, calling the murder a “particularly brutal killing.”
Cisneros took the stand in his own defense last Wednesday, October 4. He explained that he was standing at his bed getting ready for work when he turned around and saw Kaiser coming at him with the knife. He was able to dodge the attack, he said, and pull the knife from Kaiser’s hands. Kaiser then lunged at him again, Cisneros said, and that’s when he stabbed the victim in the back of the neck. “I was in fear for my life,” Cisneros told the jury, “and I’m still shaken up about it.” He had a difficult time explaining how exactly he was allegedly able to grab the knife from Kaiser, but he said he grabbed Kaiser’s hand and arm at the same time. “At the end of the whole outcome I was very surprised it happened,” he said.
He said he put a shirt around the victim’s neck because of the intense bleeding, but left as people began yelling at him. “It all happened so fast,” he explained multiple times on the stand. He left on his bike, eventually getting a ride down to Camarillo. He was caught two days later.
His story, however, didn’t match up with a story he told to three young men brought in as rebuttal witnesses by Barron. The three young men were hanging out in a park when they encountered Cisneros the night after Kaiser’s death. “He basically confessed a murder to me,” said Camarillo resident Nicholas Leprohone, 20. Cisneros allegedly told them that he had killed someone, that the two had been having an argument, and that he, Cisneros, picked up a knife that was sitting on a bed. He told them that Kaiser wouldn’t let him in initially when he was trying to get into the bedroom they shared.
Witnesses from the home testified that in the moments leading up to the murder, Cisneros appeared sullen and jumpy.
Cisneros is scheduled to be sentenced December 7. Maria Garzon, a woman who allegedly helped Cisneros get away to Ventura County, providing him with money and a ride, is headed to trial in January to face a charge of serving as an accessory to crime after the fact. She also is facing a charge of dissuading witnesses from testifying.