After a three-week trial, an Indiana man was found guilty of first-degree murder Monday for the October 2018 stabbing death of his mother in Grover Beach.
After just three hours of deliberations, the jury of six men and six women found Bloomington, Indiana, resident Levente Lazlo Lazar guilty of murder, and found true two sentencing enhancements for using a deadly weapon and for being motivated by financial gain.
The District Attorney’s Office alleged that Lazar killed his mother in order to speed up his inheritance and liquidate her assets to pay off debt and tax liens before he was to marry his girlfriend.
Lazar stood motionless, staring straight ahead, as the verdicts were read Monday.
Because of the sentencing enhancements, Lazar, 26, may face the possibility of life in prison without parole.
The prosecution’s case
During the trial, which began with testimony Oct. 2, prosecutors showed jurors electronic and physical evidence that showed Lazar drove a roughly 4,400-mile round trip from Bloomington to Grover Beach and back.
The trip coincided with the Oct. 24, 2018, stabbing death of Athena Ilona Valentiny, 64. Valentiny’s body was found lying in a pool of blood in her bedroom during a welfare check by officers from Grover Beach and California Men’s Colony, where she worked as a nurse.
During the trial, jurors were shown cell phone records that showed Lazar’s “burner” cell phone interacting with cell phone towers along his route across the country and back.
They also saw more than a dozen incriminating online searches Lazar made about murder and inheritance. On his return trip, Lazar searched for news articles online that named him as a suspect in Valentiny’s murder before her body had been discovered.
The District Attorney’s Office also showed jurors surveillance and street video camera footage of Lazar driving up to Valentiny’s Grover Beach condo, and later footage of what appears to be Lazar walking from her condo trailed by her dog, which was never found.
During his testimony last week, Lazar claimed that he took the secretive trip to California to purchase an engagement ring for his girlfriend, which was never bought, as well as a small amount of marijuana.
He was the defense’s only witness, and insinuated that his mother may have been killed by a past boyfriend or husband.
Jury foreperson on the evidence
Outside the courtroom Monday, jury foreperson Geri Lundy called the amount of evidence against Lazar “overwhelming.”
Lundy said that the video surveillance footage of Lazar was not completely clear, and some jurors had a difficult time following the prosecution’s timeline during the trial.
But after reviewing videos and other evidence during deliberations, Lundy said the case against Lazar was clear.
She said the trial was a learning experience for jurors, who had not previously been aware of the extent cell phone and other electronic devices can be used to prove guilt.
“Technology convicted him,” she said.
Given the evidence, Lundy said jurors won’t “lose any sleep” over convicting Lazar for Valentiny’s murder.
Lazar is scheduled to be sentenced before Superior Court Judge Matthew Guerrero on Dec. 11.