Riverside County DA: 4 Marines accused of killing sergeant, wife in Winchester could face death penalty

10:00 PM PST on Wednesday, January 21, 2009
The Press-Enterprise

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for four Marines charged with the execution-style slaying of their sergeant and his wife inside their Winchester home.

District Attorney Rod Pacheco said Wednesday that he considers many factors in deciding when to seek the death penalty. What stood out in this case was the love between Sgt. Jan Pietrzak and Quiana Jenkins-Pietrzak and the heinousness of the crime.

"How innocent they were and you compare and contrast that with the butchery that occurred that night in their very home," Pacheco said. "That kind of stands out."

Newlyweds Pietrzak, 24, and Jenkins-Pietrzak, 26, were found bound, gagged and shot in the head inside their two story home in a quiet neighborhood in southwest Riverside County on Oct. 15. The house had been ransacked, she had been sexually abused and the intruders had set a fire to destroy evidence.

When reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Quiana's mother, Glenda Jenkins, said she was at the cemetery and did not comment further.

Each of the four defendants is charged with two counts of murder: Lance Cpl. Tyrone Miller, 21, Lance Cpl. Emrys Justin John, 19, , Pvt. Kevin Darnell Cox, 21, and Lance Cpl. Kesaun K. Sykes, 21, The defendants were stationed at Camp Pendleton where Miller and John were assigned to Pietrzak's unit, according to court records. Jenkins-Pietrzak worked for the Riverside County Department of Health.

All four defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Defense attorneys for two defendants said they were disappointed.

"My client did not kill anyone," said Jeff Zimel, attorney for Miller.

Defense attorneys have the opportunity to present reasons to prosecutors why a defendant shouldn't get death. Sykes' attorney, Pete Morreale, said he did not make a presentation to the prosecutor's office on behalf of his client.

"Knowing our DA's office, anything I would have said would have fallen on deaf ears," said Morreale, adding that he wasn't surprised by Pacheco's decision.

"I knew it would go death. I just wish they would look at this -- these are kids, these are Marines," the defense attorney said. "This case is horrific, but seeking death on a bunch of kids ... I'm very disappointed."

Since taking office in 2007, Pacheco has pursued the death penalty in 36 other cases and life in prison without parole in 52, according to data from January 2007 to Dec. 4, 2008, provided by the prosecutor's office.

Of 677 inmates on California's death row, 64 were sentenced in Riverside County, according to a state Department of Corrections report dated Dec. 31, 2008.

John's defense attorney, Mark Johnson, said his client, the youngest of the group, has no prior criminal record.

Prosecutors allege that John fired the fatal gunshots. He is the only defendant charged with using a gun, the court records show.

Riverside County sheriff's deputies were sent to the Pietrzaks' Bermuda Street home after Camp Pendleton officials reported that he didn't show up for duty, according to authorities.

All the defendants except for John said they went to the Pietrzaks' home to rob them, according to court records. Once they arrived, Miller and John discussed killing the couple and John pulled the trigger, according to court records quoting Miller.

The defendants are scheduled to appear Feb. 2 for a hearing at the Southwest Justice Center in French Valley.

Reach Tammy J. McCoy at 951-375-3729 or tmccoy@PE.com

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