Jurors heard opening arguments on Jan. 23 in the murder trial of a Grover Beach man accused of stabbing his roommate to death and lighting the body on fire.
While SLO County prosecutors claimed that the man, 43-year-old Manuel Jesus Perez, pre-planned the murder of his housemate Joseph Charles Kienly IV, a lawyer for Perez argued that his client was acting self-defense.
Perez was arrested in SLO shortly after Kienly's badly burned body was found July 11 at home in the Grover Beach where they both were renting rooms. In his opening arguments, SLO County Deputy District Attorney Michael Frye said Perez premeditated the murder, manufacturing a homemade weapon out of two steak knives and buying lighter fluid in the days leading up to Kienly's death. On the night of the murder, Frye said Perez waited in a dark hallway outside of Kienly's room, smoking methamphetamine to stay awake.
"He'd been waiting for the victim for at least 45 minutes," Frye told jurors.
Perez would later tell police investigators that he waited "like a cheetah waits for a gazelle," Frye said.
Defense attorney Steven Rice pushed back on Frye's argument in his opening statement, claiming that Kienly had been an inconsiderate housemate and had antagonized and harassed Perez. Rice said that Perez tried to confront Kienly about the alleged harassment the night of the incident, and made the knife out of fear that the confrontation might turn violent. Rice told the jurors that Perez stabbed Kienly out of self-defense after Kienly tried to hit him during the argument.
"It wasn't his intent to kill [Kienly]," Rice said. "He was prepared to use violence if he had to, but he didn't want to."
During his statement, Rice admitted that Perez was guilty of arson.
"This case is about frustration, anger, and bad choices that did result in Mr. Kienly dying," Rice said.
Frye disputed the allegations that Kienly had been harassing Perez noting that said harassment included claims by Perez that Kienly had been "drilling holes" in the walls to keep him up at night, though the housemate never owned a power drill.
"That part is just simply inaccurate," Frye said.
Perez's trial is expected to last at least a month. Jurors will hear from a number of witnesses, including police investigators, a medical examiner, and a fellow housemate who allegedly heard the struggle take place and discovered Kienly's body.
In October 2017, Perez pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the charges against him. If he is found guilty, the trial will move into a second phase to determine if he was insane at the time he committed the crime.