MARTINEZ -- A 59-year-old Alamo real estate broker and certified public accountant is headed to trial on murder and assault charges in connection with a deadly confrontation with his next-door neighbors in a tony gated community.
A preliminary hearing judge ruled Friday that there is enough evidence to try Michael Littman for murder in the death of 59-year-old retired attorney Doris Penico, who fatally struck her head after Littman allegedly shoved her with great force as he was chasing her husband on a steep driveway outside their neighboring Stonegate Drive homes.
Littman is charged with assaulting Penico's husband, Victor Penico, during the Aug. 27 incident sparked because Littman was video recording Doris Penico, something he regularly did against the couple's wishes.
While the event was caught on video by the Penicos' security cameras, and in part by Littman and his wife's own cameras, attorneys for the prosecution and defense gave vastly different accounts of what occurred between the neighbors who had been at odds for years over a shared driveway and other disputes.
Defense attorney Michael Cardoza said it went down like this:
Littman was recording Doris Penico getting into her car to drive somewhere, which he said was "irritating" but not illegal. She got out of the car to tell him to stop recording her. Victor Penico then came out of his house and "got in Mr. Littman's face," instigating a fistfight.
As the men were running toward her, Doris Penico held out her arms, tripped and fell. Littman hit Victor Penico "a couple of times," but it was nothing to support the great bodily injury enhancement attached to the assault charge, Cardoza said.
"Tragedy? Absolutely, but certainly not intentional," he said. "It's nothing more than a battery. It was a fistfight, and he happened to win the fistfight.
"This was a guy who appeared to be as frustrated as the Penicos appeared to be," Cardoza said. "Certainly, he couldn't have planned this."
Deputy district attorney Molly Manoukian described this incident as a premeditated, calculated attack following years of Littman and his wife tormenting Doris Penico "almost like sport."
She said the videos show that the Penicos never "laid a hand" on Littman before or after he surprised the man with a roundhouse blow to the head and pushed the woman backward down the steep concrete driveway with a forceful forearm.
Littman continued to punch Victor Penico a dozen more times in the head as the man held himself in a defensive posture, leaving him bleeding from the head. Throughout the attack, Littman, unaware of the Penicos' camera, shouted out "stop hitting me" for the benefit of his iPhone that was recording audio of the incident.
"He was feigning his own claim of self-defense from the beginning of the attacks," Manoukian said. "There was overwhelming evidence of malice presented at this particular hearing."
Countered Cardoza: "Wow, do we look at these facts differently. To say it's premeditated, I'm picking myself off the floor on this one."
Littman returns to court April 29 for arraignment. He remains free from jail custody on $1.08 million bail.
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.