MARTINEZ -- Opening statements Monday kicked off the trial of an Alamo Realtor and accountant accused of killing his neighbor last year, a death described by the defense attorney as a "tragic accident" and by the prosecutor as a "calculated attack."

Several jurors flinched and one mouthed "Oh my God," as they watched surveillance video of 59-year-old Doris Penico fatally fracture her skull on the steep concrete driveway that was the source of a dispute between the attorney-turned-homemaker and Michael Littman, her next-door neighbor in the gated Stonegate Drive community.

Prosecutor Molly Manoukian said Littman pushed Doris Penico to her death on Aug. 12, 2012, as he was chasing down her tax attorney husband Victor Penico to beat him after the couple confronted him over videotaping them outside their home.

Victor and Doris Penico at Crater Lake with their son Edward in August 2010.
Victor and Doris Penico at Crater Lake with their son Edward in August 2010. ( Courtesy of Victor Penico)

"In order to understand the malice that was building in the mind and the heart of Mr. Littman, the defendant, you have to understand what came first. You have to understand the history," said Manoukian, who at the end of the trial will ask jurors to convict Littman of murder, stalking, and assault for the beating of Victor Penico.

Both attorneys said the Littmans and Penicos were at odds from the start after the Littmans moved in in 2004. There were fights over a deer fence, construction work and other issues, but the main disagreement surrounded the shared driveway and the easement in place so that vehicles could safely navigate the driveway from either residence.

Defense attorney Michael Cardoza, who will continue his opening statement Tuesday, described Doris Penico as "obsessed" with reporting and documenting perceived homeowners association violations by Michael Littman and his wife, Terry.

Littman's behavior evolved to rude and annoying, such as habitually photographing and filming the Penicos outside their house, to threatening, Manoukian said. After he gunned his van at the couple as they gardened at the driveway's edge, forcing them to jump to safety, the Penicos had installed a sophisticated video surveillance system that ultimately caught the deadly confrontation.

Michael Littman clearly didn't understand the quality of the surveillance on the day he attacked the Penicos, Manoukian said.

Jurors watched video of Doris Penico stop her car outside the Littman house, get out and shout at Littman for, once again, filming her with his iPhone.

"Explain why you are photographing me when I have a right to back up on your property," Doris Penico said on the footage.

Michael Littman said nothing and continued his silence once Victor Penico joined the confrontation and demanded that Littman stop harassing his wife.

"You hit me," Littman said before delivering a roundhouse punch to Victor Penico's head, despite the fact that the video showed Victor Penico had not touched him. He was chasing Victor Penico when he struck Doris Penico, who was thrown 8 to 10 feet down the driveway and cracked her skull on the concrete.

Victor Penico was in a defensive posture on the ground as Littman continued to beat him until he was bleeding from the head. Throughout the beating, Littman shouted "You're attacking me" and "Get off me," even though Victor Penico never once struck back on the video.

The trial continues Tuesday with the remainder of the defense's opening statement and the first witness.

Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.