A Grover Beach man accused of murdering his roommate and setting fire to the body will proceed to trial after a San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge found probable cause for the charges in a hearing Wednesday.
Judge Jacquelyn Duffy set an arraignment date of March 29 for Manuel Jesus Perez, who is charged with murder and arson.
Duffy’s decision followed about three hours of testimony from law enforcement officials who investigated the July 11, 2016, apparent homicide of Joseph Charles Kienly IV on the 100 block of North 13th Street in Grover Beach.
First to speak was Neal Clayton, an investigator with the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office, who was asked to assist the Grover Beach Police Department after emergency responders discovered Kienly’s badly burned body inside the residence.
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Clayton said that when he arrived at 9 a.m., Kienly’s body was lying in the living room of the three-bedroom residence, after firefighters moved it from the kitchen. In addition to the body, he said he also noticed what appeared to be a double-bladed knife and significant burn damage to the counter, cabinets and floor of the kitchen.
Clayton said he interviewed one of Kienly and Perez’s roommates, who said that none of the three regular residents of the home, nor a fourth man who was transient, were very close. The witness told Clayton that he only knew his roommates as “Manny and Joe.”
Clayton said the witness recounted hearing an argument shortly after 5:30 a.m. July 11 that came “out of nowhere.”
The witness told Clayton that he heard Perez tell another person, “I told you to stay out of my room.”
The witness said he then heard what sounded like a scuffle, but he remained in his room until 6:07 a.m., when he said he smelled smoke.
“He was confident about that time because he was using his phone,” Clayton said.
The witness rushed outside, but said he saw Kienly’s body on his way out of the home.
The witness later called 911 and attempted to put out the fire in the kitchen using a garden hose.
Clayton said he also spoke to Perez, who was picked up on Suburban Road near the intersection with Higuera Street, after he was named a person of interest in the investigation.
Clayton said Perez admitted not only to killing Kienly and setting him on fire, but to planning the murder in advance — to the point of creating the alleged murder weapon by connecting two steak knives together by the hilt using zip ties, super glue and black tape.
“He believed that the victim had been antagonizing him for quite some time,” Clayton said of Perez.
The investigator said Perez told him he also purchased lighter fuel to use as a fire-starter, as well as charcoal and beer, “to make it look like he was going to be barbecuing.”
Perez described leaping out from behind a pillar in the house and ambushing Kienly, and described Kienly apologizing and begging him to stop, saying “I’m sorry,” “It doesn’t have to be like this” and “I’m dying” several times, Clayton said.
Clayton testified that Perez told him “he wanted to make the victim feel what he was feeling.”
Also testifying Wednesday was Jason Caron, a senior deputy with the San Luis Obispo County Coroner’s Office.
Caron compiled the coroner’s report on Kienly, and he presented the court with an official cause of death: “Exsanguination” (severe blood loss) because of “multiple stab wounds.”
Caron said Kienly had four knife wounds, with the fatal injury most likely being a stab wound to his abdominal aorta or possibly the stab wound to Kienly’s left chest, which punctured and collapsed a lung.
In addition, Caron said Kienly suffered extensive burns to his upper body, making identification through facial features difficult. Instead, Caron said his office was able to make a positive identification using a thumb print and several tattoos.