One acquitted, four convicted in Covina Hills 91-1 murder

WEST COVINA – The murder trial of five young men and women accused in the shooting death of a Covina Hills woman as she talked with a 9-1-1 operator during a break-in at her home came to a close Thursday with the acquittal of one of the suspects and four convictions.
A jury found Christine Alegre, 19, not guilty in the March 19, 2008, slaying of 45-year-old Michelle Chien, also known by her Chinese name Hsiao Hsu, at her home in the 19700 block of Cameron Avenue in the unincorporated county area of Covina Hills, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Jane Robison said.
Alegre’s attorney, Mary Xinh Nguyen, said she as pleased with the outcome.
“I believe that justice was served,” she said. “That’s the right result. It really was.”
Sheriff’s booking records indicate Alegre was released from custody shortly after 1 p.m. Thursday after spending about 2 and a half years behind bars awaiting trial.
Three other defendants have been convicted of murder in connection with the shooting, which authorities have described as a burglary turned fatal.
Another defendant pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
Alegre was accused of driving a van to pick up the killers from Chien’s home.
According to Nguyen and trial testimony, she and the other defendants were on their way to “smoke” when Santana pulled so he could burglarize the home, which he believed belonged to the family of his ex-girlfriend.
Santana’s ex-girlfriend’s family had since moved out of the home, and Chien had moved in.
While Alegre andthe other female suspect, who were good friends, waited in the car, the three young men entered the home, Nguyen said.
When they found Chien inside the home speaking with a 9-1-1 dispatcher, the jury found, Santana shot her to death.
Alegre, who did not have a driver’s license, drove the van away from the scene and toward her own nearby home when Santana called her and ordered her to return and pick them up, Nguyen said. When Alegre and Fernandez returned, Santana again took the wheel and drove the group away from Chien’s home.
The jury did not find that Alegre had intent or knowledge of the burglary, Nguyen said.
The defense attorney conceded that the evidence presented in court may have warranted a charge of abetting after the fact, that offense was not charged.
“(The prosecution) wanted everyone to do down,” Nguyen said.
Having spent more than 2 years in jail for her minimal role in the crime, Nguyen said, “She learned her lesson” when it comes to associating with the wrong people. “I don’t think she would ever make that kind of mistake.”
The prosecutor in the case, Ian Phan, could not be reached for comment.
A West Covina Superior Court jury convicted Victor Muartua, 21, Wednesday of first-degree murder along with the special allegation that the killing was carried out during the commission of a burglary, Robison said. He’s due back in court to be sentenced to life in prison without parole on Jan. 18.
Muartua, a U.S. citizen, was arrested for disturbing the peace in Tijuana in early 2009 and turned over to U.S. authorities after Mexican officials learned he was wanted for murder
Christopher Stratis, 19, was convicted of the same charges Monday and faces the same prison term at his sentencing Dec. 1, Robison said.
The triggerman in the shooting, 22-year-old Christopher Santana, was convicted of first-degree murder as well as the special allegation of personally using a handgun to kill Chien in July and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole July 15, officials said.
Megali Fernandez, 19, pleaded no contest to a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the case and is due to be sentenced Dec. 9, officials said. She testified for the prosecution against Santana.
Stratis, Alegre and Fernandez were juveniles when the slaying occurred, though they were charged as adults.
A D.A.’s Office internal committee did not seek the death penalty against Muartua and Santana, though they were adults when the crime was committed and were eligible for the death penalty.
Robison said the D.A.’s office does not discuss the reasoning of the committee when deciding whether or not to pursue the death penalty.

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  • Anonymous

    yes three guys got off the drive with the intentions to rob a home. But only one made the choice to shoot the victim the other two chose to turn around and run. The shooter had the opportunity to but which not to. So now all the boys and locked for life, the 4th def (girl) gets manslaughter and the 5th (anothe girl) is release with no charge. Why if the law says one goes down then bring them all down. Why did she get away with murder. She plan the robboery with the shoot, drove the get away car and she gets a pat on the back and sent on her way back home.

    Too bad the jury was not as sympathic to this guy. I guess the Christine had a more understanding jury. what a shame this case caughter a lot of media this only hurt the Maurta and the other kid.

  • Anonymous

    did you sit on the jury? if not, then how could you accuse her of planning anything!? at 16 and under the influence violent ‘friends,’ the poor girl has paid enough for her so called part – 2 years in jail for not having committed a crime.

  • annoymous juror

    I was on the juror on the martua trial, and the evidence as well as his testimony showed he was in the house, had knowledge of things he couldnt if he was only in the garage. The law is set to protect all of us and to stop others from doing said crimes. It is really unfortuate these young men will spend the rest of thier lives in jail, but lets not forget they had many opportunities not to go and do this crime regardless if they didnt pull the trigger, the law is very clear on these types of crimes. The decision was not an easy one nor did it come quickly. We tried every and any way to find resonable doubt but the facts showed to the contary. Based on the facts this young man as well as stratus were guilty. I pray for them and hope thier mistakes will save countless others.

  • Anonymous

    I do understand that making this type of decisions are not easy we are talking about a young man’s life. But I still feel the girl got a break “big time”. She also had a choice not to go with them and seek help before the crime was committed not after because she was feeling bad about it. Being young/ignorant under the eyes of the law does not excuse her. Two years of punishment v. life and her winning ticket is being under age. Yes the “poor girl” did not commit the crime/pull the trigger but she went there with all the intention of robbing this house, the same as Maurta. Too bad he was not under 18 year old.