Agua Caliente tribal member found guilty of voluntary manslaughter

POSTED: 01:46 PM PDT Apr 29, 2013    UPDATED: 02:10 PM PDT Apr 29, 2013 
INDIO, Calif. -

A Palm Springs woman was convicted of manslaughter today for stabbing her 40-year-old handyman in what her attorney described as an act of self-defense.

Candace Rochelle Duran, 24, was originally charged with murder for the Sept. 23, 2007, stabbing of Howard Villanueva at Duran's home in the 29000 block of Biskra Road, but jurors convicted her of the reduced charge instead after about a week of deliberations and found true a sentence-enhancing allegation of use of a deadly weapon.

Sentencing is tentatively set for June 14, to be preceded by a May 10 hearing on Duran's other pending cases.

Deputy District Attorney Jon Brandon told the jury in his closing argument that the evidence -- including blood on the walls and signs of a cleanup -- showed Duran intended to kill Villanueva.

The way blood was spattered on the bathroom, archway and dining room walls showed the victim "was attacked from the beginning" and quickly lost blood and consciousness when arteries in his neck were severed, Brandon said.

"These are not stab wounds placed by someone trying to get away. These are placed by someone trying to kill him," Brandon said.

Villanueva was stabbed 12 times and suffered one five-inch wound that showed a knife blade and part of the handle were buried in his neck, the prosecutor said.

"At what point is the danger gone? ... How many stab wounds are necessary to keep a man from raping you?" Brandon said, referring to Duran's claim that Villanueva attacked her.

Duran took a shower and started cleaning up instead of calling for help, and she had no defensive wounds, further showing her guilt, Brandon said. He said Duran changed what she told investigators, and "not one of the stories she gave is consistent or reconcilable with the physical evidence."

"This is not the case of a poor girl assaulted by a man in her home. This is a woman who deliberately attacked Howard Villanueva and finished the job," Brandon alleged.

Defense attorney Dean Benjamini said Duran was shaking and crying when her cousin arrived shortly after the stabbing. She told her cousin, a 911 dispatcher and police officers who showed up a short time later that Villanueva had attacked her, he said.

At the police station, not knowing she was being recorded, she told her cousin that Villanueva "suddenly grabbed me ... I turned around and he had a knife, and that's when it got scary."

Benjamini also said Duran told an officer the attack was sexual.

"When you look at the consistency, look at the demeanor, look at the crying and the shaking at the scene, it paints a pretty consistent picture of what happened in that house," Benjamini said in his closing argument.

He said Villanueva was moving forward and Duran was going backward during the struggle.

"He's coming at her, ladies and gentlemen, there's no two ways about it," the defense attorney said.

He said most of the 12 stab wounds were shallow slashes. Duran showed a willingness to stay at the scene and cooperate; she jumped in the shower not to get rid of evidence but because "that's human nature," he said.

Benjamini contended that Duran had no motive to kill Villanueva.

"It doesn't fit with the physical evidence, it doesn't fit with anything she said and it certainly doesn't fit with anything you know," he said.

He said Villanueva had set fire to a house, beaten one former girlfriend and raped and threatened another. He also had a "nearly toxic" level of methamphetamine in his system that day, Benjamini said.

"She's in there by herself when this guy comes at her, with his intent very clear ... she had no choice what to do but fight for her life, and she did what she had to do," he said.