Man convicted of killing girlfriend in East LA and man in Whittier

Jurors convicted a man on Wednesday, Sept. 14, of murdering his on-again, off-again girlfriend in East Los Angeles and a man in Whittier in crimes more than a decade apart — but they deadlocked on murder charges involving two other killings.

The panel found Jose “Joe” Luis Saenz, 47, guilty of first-degree murder for the Aug. 5, 1998, killing of Sigreda Fernandez, the mother of his young daughter, along with the Oct. 5, 2008, killing of Oscar Torres.

Jurors also convicted Saenz of one count each of kidnapping, forcible rape and sodomy by use of force involving Fernandez, as well as one count of attempted murder involving a man who was wounded in the October 2008 shooting that left Torres dead.

Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler declared a mistrial on the other two murder charges against Saenz — an alleged gang member — involving the July 25, 1998, killings of rival gang members Josue Hernandez and Leonardo Ponce in east Los Angeles.

Saenz shot Fernandez in the head because he thought she had “talked to the police about something,” the prosecutor told the jury, noting that the woman was found in bed with a piece of clothing over her face and that Saenz penned a note to his grandmother on the wall in which he wrote, “I love you grandma with all my heart” and urged her to take care of his young daughter.

Torres was shot to death more than a decade later outside his home in Whittier.

“This video is evidence … that the victim Oscar Torres ran for his life in his underwear,” Steggell told jurors of surveillance video from outside the victim’s house. “You can clearly tell it’s the defendant.”

An on-the-run Saenz was featured on billboards across Los Angeles, the local news and on the TV show “America’s Most Wanted” and eventually brought back from Mexico in 2012 by a fugitive task force after being found living under a different name.

Saenz is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors opted under prior Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s administration to not seek the death penalty against Saenz.

Upon being informed during an April 2016 court hearing of the decision, Saenz responded, “I want them to seek death.”

The judge told Saenz that it was up to the prosecution to decide what punishment to seek.

Saenz — who was on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list for more than two years — has been behind bars in Los Angeles County for nearly a decade. He was arrested in November 2012 by Mexican agents as he left his apartment in Guadalajara, Mexico, the FBI said. He arrived under guard at Los Angeles International Airport before being moved to county jail.

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