A 42-year-old Grover Beach man accused of murdering his roommate and setting the body on fire is pursuing an insanity defense.
Manuel Jesus Perez pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity on Oct. 6 in connection with the July 11, 2016, murder of Joseph Charles Kienly IV, according to court records.
- FILE PHOTO
- GOING TO TRIAL Manuel Jesus Perez pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity on Oct. 6 in connection with the July 11, 2016, murder of Joseph Charles Kienly IV.
A defendant can be found not guilty by reason of insanity if he or she is incapable of knowing or understanding the nature of their alleged criminal acts and were unable to distinguish right from wrong at the time they committed the offense, according to California law.
According to Assistant SLO District Attorney Lee Cunningham, the court's next step will be to appoint psychiatrists to examine Perez. Court records show that SLO County Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn Duffy appointed two psychiatrists shortly after the plea was entered.
Following the examination, Cunningham said the next phase in the process will be determining whether Perez is guilty of Keinly's murder, which will likely mean a jury trial. If he is found guilty, the issue of his insanity will be determined in the second phase of court proceedings.
"This may be the same jury or a new jury," Cunningham said.
Perez was arrested in July of last year after police officers and firefighters responded to reports of a structure fire at an apartment in the 100 block of North 13th Street in Grover Beach. Inside they discovered a small fire, as well as Kienly's body. Police believe that Perez stabbed Kienly to death during a physical altercation in the apartment, where the two were living together as roommates. Police said that Perez set fire to the body and fled the scene before emergency crews arrived. He was later arrested in San Luis Obispo.
If Perez is found guilty, the burden to prove he was insane will fall on his defense attorney, Steven Rice. Rice did not respond to request for comment from New Times.
Perez is facing one felony count of first degree murder and another felony count of arson. If he is found not guilty by insanity, Perez could be sentenced to treatment at a mental health facility. If not, he could face life in prison.
Perez is not the first local defendant to pursue an insanity defense after being accused of murder. In 2012, a SLO County Superior Court judge ruled that then 20-year-old Andrew Wesley Downs was insane when he shot and killed two sisters in Santa Margarita on Christmas Day 2010. And in 2013, a judge found then 38-year-old Paso Robles resident Sunni Daun Jackson not guilty by reason of insanity in connection with the murder of her mother in April 2012.
According to court records, Perez's next hearing will take place on Nov. 6.