A state appeals court panel today reversed a Signal Hill resident’s murder conviction for the stabbing death of a man in Long Beach during a confrontation about the defendant violating a restraining order.
In a 2-1 ruling, a panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal ordered the case against Edson Eduardo Rufino to be sent back to a Long Beach courtroom to determine if the prosecution wants to retry him for second-degree murder for the April 2, 2020, killing of Leandro Maza.
With Presiding Justice Laurence D. Rubin concurring, Associate Justice Dorothy C. Kim wrote in the appellate court panel’s opinion that a prosecutor “misstated the requirements for heat of passion” involving the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter and that the panel’s majority “can conceive of no reasonable tactical purpose for defense counsel to not object to the prosecutor’s misstatement of the law on this issue.”
Associate Justice Lamar W. Baker objected to the reversal, writing in his dissent that he believes “there could be good reasons why defense counsel did not object to the prosecution’s argument” and that he believed “there is no basis to conclude defendant’s trial attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel on this record.”
Rufino, now 22, was convicted in July 2021 of the murder charge, along with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon and one count each of contempt of court and resisting, obstructing or delaying a peace officer or emergency medical technician.
Rufino was sentenced in December 2021 to 20 years to life in state prison, with Superior Court Judge Richard M. Goul rejecting the defense’s request to reduce the murder conviction to voluntary manslaughter.
Rufino violated a restraining order that his girlfriend’s mother had obtained by visiting his girlfriend that day at her mother’s home and used a knife to threaten the girlfriend’s brother and another visitor to the home when his girlfriend’s mother called police, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Rufino fled into another home and then allegedly stabbed Maza — whom police said had armed himself with a metal pole— as the defendant left that house after police had been called, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Maza was taken to a hospital, where he died that night of a stab wound to the chest, according to the Los Angeles County medical examiner’s office.
Rufino fled the scene and was arrested early the next morning by Long Beach police, authorities said. He has remained behind bars since then.