SANTA ANA – A court-martialed Marine was found guilty Tuesday of first-degree murder in the killing of a fellow Camp Pendleton Marine in a secluded area of San Clemente in a dispute over stolen drug money.
An Orange County jury of six men and six women deliberated a day and a half before convicting Christian William Carney, 25, of Manorville, N.Y., of murder, criminal threats and attempting to dissuade a witness.
Carney faces a possible 28 year and eight months to life in prison at his sentencing Jan. 20 by Superior Court Judge William Froeberg.
Jurors found a sentencing enhancement that Carney personally used a gun not to be true, a charge that would have added another 25 years to Carney's prison term.
Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh portrayed Carney as a liar during his closing arguments, asking jurors not to be fooled by the defendant's "crying on cue" and "acting" during his testimony, calling him a "vicious, cold-blooded killer."
The prosecutor said we should thank Carney for his military service, including a tour of duty in Iraq, but asked jurors not to give him a pass for the fatal shooting of Stephen Serrano, 20, on May 13, 2008.
Serrano's parents kissed after the verdicts were read. His wife wept. In another section of the courtroom gallery, Carney's mother, also in tears, called out to her son as he was taken away in handcuffs: "I love you Chris, and I know you didn't do this."
Serrano's relatives said afterward they were pleased with the outcome.
"It's a tragedy that ... their family also had to suffer with the loss of their son," said Serrano's mom Christl McKenney, who in her hand held her son's Marine boot camp graduation photo facing the jurors as the verdicts were read.
Baytieh zeroed in on the many lies he said the defendant told when he took the witness stand.
Carney was caught in the biggest one of them all, the prosecutor said, when he testified Serrano was fatally shot by another fellow Marine, earlier than the time he actually was killed.
The defendant testified he had no idea Alvin Reed Lovely, 24, of Dallas, then also a Pendleton Marine, would shoot Serrano, when the two confronted Serrano about stealing Carney's drug money.
"When you are a liar and a murderer, justice will catch up to you," said Baytieh after the verdicts were announced.
Most of the jurors left the courtroom without comment.
One juror, who did not identify himself, said the key factor pointing toward guilt was evidence that Carney knew Lovely had a gun when they walked Serrano up the isolated San Clemente hillside. The juror said it made sense that Carney knew something volatile could happen.
Defense attorney Jennifer Keller told jurors her client made a lot of bad choices but is hardly a killer.
The bottomline, she argued, was that Lovely, and not Carney, shot Serrano.
Keller expressed disappointment with the verdicts.
"We thought his testimony rang very true," she said of her client. "This was really a case of somebody picking the wrong companion, and he's going to suffer for the rest of his life for it."
Lovely will be tried later on charges of murder, criminal threats, plus using a gun. He faces 38 years to life if convicted.
"Hopefully, we get the same justice with Lovely," said Serrano's wife Sophia.
Carney has been tried and court-martialed for drug dealing at Camp Pendleton and is serving six years, according to testimony.
Baytieh ended his arguments with a photo of Serrano in a white suit and the numbers 2 and 1,310 displayed in bold yellow letters respectively to the left and right of the picture for the jury to see.
Two represented the number of days before Serrano was discovered face down and on his knees in a San Clemente drainage ditch, while 1,310, the prosecutor said, was the number of days that had passed since the victim died.
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