A 27-year-old Burbank man was sentenced to 26 years to life in state prison Wednesday after he was convicted of fatally stabbing his on-and-off girlfriend 19 times in her neck.
Stephen Joanou Jr. was convicted of first-degree murder in March in the death of Patrina “Trina” Sabella, who was found behind a shed in South Weddington Park in Studio City on March 20, 2012, in a pool of blood. She was 32.
Both Joanou Jr. and Sabella’s families were present in court Wednesday, where Sabella’s loved ones remembered her as a “beautiful and gentle soul” who spoiled her now 9-year-old daughter, Leah, with gifts.
Leah was adopted at birth by her paternal grandparents, but Sabella — as well as Joanou Jr. — played a role in her life, according to the girl’s adopted mother, Karen Myers.
Both Sabella and Joanou Jr. reportedly struggled with drug use.
“The details of your actions still haunt the minds of us all,” Myers said to Joanou Jr. in court. “The shock and disbelief she must have felt knowing it was you, someone she loved and trusted.”
“You’re going to have a long time to think about what you did,” said the victim’s father, Michael Sabella.
Joanou Jr. was originally slated to be sentenced last month, but Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Gregory Dohi continued the hearing after the defense presented new evidence in the case.
The evidence arose after Joanou Jr.’s father, Stephen Joanou Sr., posted fliers — after the verdict was reached — in the park where Sabella was killed, offering an unspecified reward for more information.
That’s how the defense reportedly discovered information contradicting testimony given by a transient man during the trial — specifically, where the witness was in the park at the time of the incident.
Dohi denied defense attorney Christopher Chaney’s motion for a new trial on Wednesday, citing that “it’s not reasonable to believe that evidence would have made a difference.”
The judge also denied Chaney’s motion to reduce the charge from first-degree murder to second-degree murder.
“The facts here don’t justify a reduction of the offense,” Dohi said.
Surveillance video reportedly showed Joanou Jr. and Sabella buying coffee at a 7-Eleven in Hollywood, hours before she was found dead. Two coffee cups with traces of DNA from Joanou and Sabella were discovered inside her car at the park where she was found dead.
Investigators also collected text messages that the pair had sent each other that night, discussing plans to meet. Joanou had reportedly denied seeing Sabella that night.
Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.
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