VICTORVILLE • A Hesperia man charged with beating a cable installer to death with a ball-peen hammer testified Tuesday that voices in his head told him to kill somebody.
Before a jury entered a Victorville courtroom Tuesday, Ron Powell repeatedly told his client, Johnny Acosta, that the best call was to invoke his constitutional right to remain silent.
But Acosta told Judge John Tomberlin he wanted to take the witness stand.
Powell told the jurors in his opening statement that Acosta was not in his right mind when he killed Trevor John Neiman, a 25-year-old former Marine who served three tours in Iraq.
With about 30 family members and friends of Neiman in the gallery, Acosta answered attorneys’ questions with short responses in a weak voice.
Acosta said he had been drinking and taking a lot of methamphetamine on Nov. 9, 2009, before the incident took place at his niece’s Victorville house.
When he stepped outside with his sister to have a conversation and saw a police car on the other side of the street, he started hearing voices, Acosta testified.
“It’s time to go in there and kill somebody,” the male voices told Acosta, according to his testimony. Acosta said he feared for his life because he thought the police officer was going to kill him.
The 6-foot-1, 300-pound defendant grabbed a hammer and walked over to the living room, where Neiman was installing a Charter cable system. Approaching Neiman from behind, Acosta started smacking the victim’s head without any warning, Deputy District Attorney Robert Brown said.
“How did you feel when you were killing Mr. Neiman?” Brown asked.
“I didn’t feel anything,” Acosta answered.
The defendant said he didn’t know why he chose to assault Neiman — the only person he didn’t know in the house.
“I’ve been hearing things for a long time,” he said, adding that the messages usually come from a television or radio. Acosta said the voices usually tell him that the population is getting overwhelming and he needs to kill people.
Brown asked Acosta to describe what the police officer and his car looked like, but the defendant said he couldn’t remember the details.
“You expect me to remember all that?” Acosta said.
Some defense attorneys discourage their clients from testifying in court because it allows the prosecution to bring in otherwise inadmissible evidence, such as the defendant’s criminal history.
If convicted, Acosta could face up to 75 years to life in prison because he has two prior strikes.
Acosta pleaded guilty in 1993 to voluntary manslaughter and attempted rape of an Upland woman. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison but was released in half the time in 2004.
When Brown asked Acosta when he first felt threatened by the police, the defendant began discussing the 1992 incident in Upland.
Acosta said he entered his sister’s apartment and saw her husband watching TV. He then heard the voices that told him “to kill,” Acosta testified.
Brown pointed out Acosta didn’t tell doctors or investigators that he had heard voices in the 1992 or 2009 incident.