– The man accused in the March strangling and stabbing death of
Elizabeth Esther Gomez pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason
of insanity on Wednesday.
Hollister – The man accused in the March strangling and stabbing death of Elizabeth Esther Gomez pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity on Wednesday.
Samuel Ethan Turner, a 25-year-old San Jose resident, entered the plea in San Benito County Superior Court to charges of first-degree murder and mayhem, for which he could face the death penalty.
Attorney Harry Damkar, who represents Turner, would not elaborate on the reasoning behind the plea or his client’s mental history.
“It’s a very sad case,” Damkar said. “But we believe it had its roots in a very unsettled series of events in my client’s life. This case is a tragedy not just for the victim’s family but for Mr. Turner’s family and Mr. Turner as well.”
District Attorney Candice Hooper said the plea was “not unexpected.” She said Turner’s ability to stand trial has yet to be determined.
Hooper said she could not elaborate on Turner’s mental history, but said the Hollister Police Department is gathering background information.
“I’m not privy to his medical information at this time,” Hooper said.
Authorities believe Turner strangled and stabbed Gomez on March 13 in her second-story apartment on Prospect Avenue. Police officers found Turner in the woman’s bedroom, Capt. Bob Brooks previously told the Free Lance.
On July 18, a San Benito County Superior Court judge will determine a date for Turner’s preliminary examination. In a preliminary examination, a judge will determine if there is enough evidence to bind Turner over for trial.
Under a plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity, a trial would have two phases.
In the first phase, a jury would determine guilt without considering insanity, according to the California Penal Code. In the second phase, the same jury, or another jury, would return a verdict of sane or insane.
If convicted of first-degree murder and mayhem, but found insane, the defendant could be committed to a state hospital for life.
If convicted of first-degree murder and mayhem, but found sane, Turner could face the death penalty.
Hooper previously told the Free Lance that she is seeking the death penalty and that the special allegation of mayhem had been added because Gomez’s neck had been disfigured.
Turner is being held at the San Benito County Jail in solitary confinement without bail.
Michael Van Cassell covers public safety for the Free Lance. He can be reached at 831-637-5566 ext. 335 or [email protected]