INDIO – An admitted methamphetamine user was found guilty Friday of first-degree murder for beating and strangling his mother in her Indio home in 2006, but jurors cleared him of a torture allegation.
The three-woman, nine-man jury, which got the case late Thursday and reached its verdict this afternoon, must now determine if 43-year-old Efrain Gutierrez was sane at the time of the slaying.
Guadalupe Gutierrez’s body was found in the roadway in the 81000 block of Francis Avenue in Indio on May 29, 2006. Deputies followed a trail of blood to the victim’s home, where they found her son standing naked in a bathroom.
Deputy District Attorney Victoria Weiss told jurors in her closing argument Thursday that Gutierrez was a “meth head” who stole from his mother to fund an “expensive” drug habit.
“Efrain Gutierrez knew from past experience that when he binged on methamphetamine he would get violent,” Weiss said. “He chose to do meth and he got violent.”
Defense attorney John Patrick Dolan did not contest that Gutierrez killed his mother, but argued that his client’s actions stemmed from his long history of mental illness and drug abuse.
“This horrible, gut-wrenching, pathetic series of facts is driven by mental illness exacerbated by the use of methamphetamine,” Dolan said in his closing statement.
Dolan argued that the prosecution did not prove that Gutierrez had the mental state to form the intent to commit murder. But the prosecutor countered that jurors had only to decide in the first phase of trial whether the defendant was guilty of murder, not whether he was sane.
Weiss pointed to a cellmate’s testimony that Gutierrez had admitted using meth in the days before his mother’s death. A blood test administered hours after his arrest showed Gutierrez had the drug in his system, according to Weiss.
The inmate also testified that the defendant said he stole $17 from his mother’s purse before she caught him in the hallway the day she was killed. Weiss said the inmate’s testimony was accurate because he knew details of the crime that even the detectives did not know.
Dolan argued that the prosecution’s case was based around the theft of $17, which came solely from testimony from a jailhouse snitch.
“It’s based on a man you cannot believe,” Dolan argued. “You cannot find that man credible.”
Gutierrez, who testified in his own defense Monday, denied stealing money from his mother. He said he had several hundred dollars in his bank account and his wallet at the time of her death.
He testified that he believed he was defending himself against a demon when he attacked her and that his patron saint, St. Gregory the Great, told him to kill the “demon.”
“It was pale. It looked like a zombie,” he said. “It didn’t even cross my mind it was my mother.”
Gutierrez also testified he beat his mother with a crystal vase, a frame and a vacuum cleaner before he dragged her body outside and into the street, where she was found by passerby.
Dolan noted his client used the word “it” to describe his mother.
“He thought he was killing an `it,”‘ Dolan said, adding that several doctors testified that his client suffered from a mental illness.