Jurors Weigh Murderer's Mental Status

MURRIETA, Calif. -- Jurors deliberated for a half-day Friday but left without reaching a verdict on whether a man convicted of killing a man during a burglary is mentally retarded, which would spare him from the death penalty.

Tony Ricky Yonko, 46, was convicted of killing 42-year-old Paul Ngo with a hammer during a burglary on Oct. 22, 2002. Two of Ngo's three sons found their father dead when arriving home from elementary school in Lake Elsinore.

A seven-woman, five-man jury found Yonko guilty of murder and recommended the death penalty.

A new six-man, six-woman jury must now determine if Yonko is legally retarded, which would result in a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole instead of the death penalty.

Jurors are not being told that Yonko's life hinges on their decision. They were told that he will not be released, regardless of their verdict.

The jury got the case late Thursday afternoon after closing arguments by both sides.

On Friday, the panel submitted four questions to the attorneys, one asking for a readback of testimony.

Riverside Superior Court Judge Judith Clark will consider the request when jurors return at 9 a.m. Monday.

Deputy District Attorney Stephen Gallon has tried to show that Yonko is not mentally deficient, but savvy enough to know how to trick psychologists who administered tests to him.

"The defendant is capable of manipulation," Gallon said in his closing arguments Thursday.

Yonko's prison records showed that he had a reading level of a seventh-grader and that the "inmate has adequate, cognitive test scores," said Gallon.

Defense psychologists chose to ignore pertinent information about Yonko that would have tempered their conclusions that he is mildly mentally retarded, Gallon said.

"You can't pick and choose to pretend certain things don't exist," Gallon said.

Gallon also read from a transcript of a hearing for one of Yonko's three burglary convictions.

In that transcript, Yonko apparently does quick mental calculations to figure out how much time the judge is talking about when he mentions good time credits.

"This is somebody who is dialed in," Gallon said.

"The defendant is a liar and a manipulator and is a scam artist," Gallon said.

However, defense attorney Elaine Johnson told the jury that Yonko for the most part tested on a first-, second- or third-grade level during incarceration. The seventh-grade score had to have been an "aberration" she said.

Johnson urged the jury not to buy into the prosecution contention that the experts called to testify for the defense were not properly assessing the defendant. Three experts assessed Yonko as mildly retarded.

Psychologist Stephen Greenspan testified during the trial that just because someone can drive or even plan a criminal act does not mean that person cannot also be retarded.

Yonko killed Ngo while stealing his safe. The safe, and the hammer used to kill Ngo, was found in Ngo's Volvo, which was parked in Yonko's garage.

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