Insurance Fraud Becomes Inconsequential Because of Murder

Chutzpah – After a Vicious Murder the Defendant Adds Insurance Fraud

It takes a great deal of chutzpah to set a fire to cover a murder and then try to profit from the fire by making a claim under a fire insurance policy. The unmitigated gall of Ernesto Ornelas was added to by appealing his multiple convictions for murder, arson, and other crimes that made the insurance fraud crime inconsequential.

In The People of the State of California v. Ernesto Ornelas, B284515, Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Five (March 18, 2019) Defendant Ernesto Ornelas impersonated his estranged wife on her Facebook account to lure victim Miguel Evora (one of his wife’s friends) to defendant’s residence. There, defendant murdered Evora, dismembered and discarded his body, and set fire to his own residence.

FACTS BACKGROUND

Defendant and Karina began dating in 2001, married in 2005, and had six children together. Their relationship was punctuated by defendant’s domestic violence. In January of 2015, Karina gave birth to her sixth child with defendant. Although she and defendant were estranged at the time, she allowed him to come to the hospital to attend the birth.

On September 15, 2015, Karina and her children spent the night with defendant at his residence.

Arson of Defendant’s Residence

At noon on September 19, 2015, defendant reinstated his full-coverage automobile and renter’s insurance policies as they had lapsed from nonpayment. The next day, the surveillance cameras from Bank of America (across from his house) recorded a person walking up defendant’s driveway at 11:38 p.m. Sixteen minutes later, there was a large flash and the same individual ran from defendant’s residence.

When the police contacted defendant and informed him of the fire, he stated that he was in San Diego and could not return home because he had been drinking. The next day, defendant filed an claim with his insurance company claiming property loss resulting from the fire. When questioned, defendant told police that his residence had been locked when he had left it a few hours prior to the fire, and that Karina was the only other person who had keys to the residence. Defendant stated that he had been attending a party in Tijuana at the time of the fire.

Discovery of Evora’s Body

Evora’s black Ford Focus was seen parked along a residential street in San Bernardino and police officers investigated and found two plastic bags inside the trunk containing human remains, which were determined to be Evora’s. An autopsy revealed that Evora died as a result of three gunshot wounds to his neck, chest, and arm. His body was dismembered postmortem with a jagged tool, like a saw.

The Homicide and Arson Investigation

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department arson experts examined defendant’s home and determined that the fire had been deliberately set in the living room via application of an open flame to combustible material and accelerated with gasoline. Detectives recovered a reciprocating saw, missing a blade, from defendant’s living room. A second saw, with a round blade, was recovered from the same area. A forensic analysis of the ballistics evidence showed that the three bullets recovered from Evora’s body were consistent with nine-millimeter ammunition and had been fired from the same weapon.

Trial, Verdict, and Sentence

The jury trial found defendant guilty of all counts, and found the special circumstance and firearm enhancement allegations to be true. For the first degree murder conviction, the trial court sentenced defendant to life without the possibility of parole, plus a consecutive term of 25 years to life for discharge of a firearm causing death. The court also sentenced defendant to a consecutive term of one year, eight months for arson, a consecutive term of 8 months for stalking Karina, and 180 days, credit time served, for the two misdemeanor counts for violating the order protecting Karina.

DISCUSSION

Defendant does not dispute that an arson of a structure occurred. He asserts that the evidence was not sufficient to show the structure was inhabited at the time of the fire and in any event, the statute does not apply if it is the defendant who is the inhabitant of the burned structure. Section 451 does not require that someone other than the defendant inhabit the structure. The clothing found in the location itself provided sufficient evidence. A reasonable jury could conclude that at the time of the fire, defendant still resided in this structure.

The evidence of Evora’s blood in defendant’s home, Facebook and cell phone records, video surveillance footage, and defendant’s suspicious conduct tied defendant and no one else to the murder.

Defendant’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are speculative and not worth discussing.

The probation report, which the trial court read, described the killing as follows: “The dismemberment of victim Evora is a heinous and vile criminal act, which the surviving family has to live with. The defendant’s actions displayed the extent he would go through to kill any man he thought was cheating with his wife.”

The court upheld the conviction with a lengthy opinion that made clear how evil the defendant’s conduct was and how useless and time consuming was his crime.

ZALMA OPINION

“Chutzpah” is Yiddish for unmitigated gall. This vicious murderer reinforced the definition of the terms by adding insult to the heinous murder by trying to tie his wife to the crime, by committing arson to hide the evidence of his crime, by making an insurance claim for the fire he started, and for having the gall to appeal the conviction that was obvious to the jury, the judge and the probation department. Anyone who thinks insurance fraud is a victimless crime should consider the situation of Mr. Evora and Karina the mother of the defendant’s six children.


© 2019 – Barry Zalma

This article, and all of the blog posts on this site, digest and summarize cases published by courts of the various states and the United States.  The court decisions have been modified from the actual language of the court decisions, were condensed for ease of reading, and convey the opinions of the author regarding each case.

Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant  specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He also serves as an arbitrator or mediator for insurance related disputes. He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 50 years in the insurance business. He is available at http://www.zalma.com and zalma@zalma.com.

Mr. Zalma is the first recipient of the first annual Claims Magazine/ACE Legend Award.

Over the last 51 years Barry Zalma has dedicated his life to insurance, insurance claims and the need to defeat insurance fraud. He has created the following library of books and other materials to make it possible for insurers and their claims staff to become insurance claims professionals.

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About Barry Zalma

An insurance coverage and claims handling author, consultant and expert witness with more than 48 years of practical and court room experience.
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