A 31-year-old transient will stand trial in the Culver City double-murder of an elderly man and young Santa Monica woman in May of last year, a judge ordered Friday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Nancy Newman found sufficient evidence to require Zachariah Lehnen to proceed to trial for the May 2, 2011, stabbing and beating deaths of Lucien Bergez, 89, and Erica Escobar, 27, who lived in Santa Monica.
Police were called to Bergez's modest home in the 4000 block of Huron Avenue near Washington Boulevard about 10 a.m. May 3, 2011, after the bodies were reportedly discovered inside the home by a housekeeper who was caring for Bergez.
Lehnen, who reportedly knew the victims, was arrested two days later in West Hollywood ally. "It is our belief that this was not a random crime. The investigation has led us to believe that the suspect was known to both victims," Culver City Police Chief Donald Pedersen told the Canyon News in 2011.
The case against Lehnen drew media attention because the murders were allegedly committed while he was out of prison, released three years early under California's "non-revocable parole" law. The LA Weekly, which obtained a copy of his parole sheet, reported that Lehnen was bipolar and homeless in Hollywood.
Prosecutors will decide later whether to seek the death penalty against Lehnen. Multiple charges against him include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder during the course of a robbery.