WALNUT CREEK -- The Alamo couple, increasingly fearful of the next-door neighbor who would film them going about their daily activities on a shared driveway, installed a security camera to record the man's "aggressive and unpredictable behavior."
That security camera captured the tragic end Aug. 27 to the neighborhood flap over use of the driveway in the tony housing development, prosecutors say in court documents. Michael Littman, confronted by Doris and Victor Penico during the latest filming episode, allegedly attacked the couple, killing the 59-year-old woman and leaving her tax attorney husband beaten and bloody.
Littman, a 59-year-old real estate broker and CPA who owns Key Properties Financial in Walnut Creek, pleaded not guilty Thursday to murdering Doris Penico and assaulting Victor Penico with force likely to cause great bodily injury.
He's free on $1.08 million bail and has been ordered not to return to his house on Stonegate Drive, just a few steps away from where Victor Penico still resides with his and Doris' young adult son.
In addition to the security camera that recorded the assault, investigators seized Littman's iPhone, which has video of the confrontation before he became physical. They also have video that Littman's wife Terry filmed of the incident from inside her house -- portions of which prosecutors allege she hid from investigators.
While the Sheriff's Office initially said the incident involved mutual combat based on the Littmans' statement, prosecutors say there is no evidence on the videos that Doris or Victor Penico ever struck Michael Littman. What they allegedly show is Littman bodychecking Doris with a forearm to the torso as he was chasing down Victor Penico between bouts of punching him in the head. Doris Penico hit her head on the concrete and never regained consciousness before dying the next day.
Michael Littman held down Victor Penico and pummeled him before abruptly stopping and walking past Doris' lifeless body without breaking stride, prosecutors wrote.
Alice Gilson, a friend of the Penicos, said she was horrified but not totally surprised when she heard from the family that Doris, a retired attorney, was dead and Littman was responsible.
"I know I've been hearing about him and his harassment for a number of years," Gilson said Thursday from Silver Spring, Md. "There were times she felt afraid of him because he would be very angry. I said try to avoid him, and she would try."
The Penicos moved about a decade ago from Silver Spring, where Doris was a civic activist instrumental in blocking a giant mall, saving a 1938 art deco theater and spurring the revitalization of a once-blighted downtown, Gilson said. The Littmans moved in a few years later, and their shared driveway soon became a point of contention, as prosecutors say Michael Littman would block in the Penicos' cars with his van, hindering the couple's ability to come and go.
Littman's attorney, Michael Cardoza, describes Doris Penico's death as accidental, the result of her falling and hitting her head on the steep, concrete driveway as her husband and Littman engaged in a struggle that the Penicos initiated. Meanwhile, prosecutors say the incident was caught on video three ways, and there is no evidence that Doris or Victor Penico ever struck Littman. Cardoza said he's seen some of the videos but has yet to review others he just received by the DA's office.
Cardoza said the Littmans were filming the Penicos to document their behavior during driveway conflicts.
"They were not the meek and mild people that they are being portrayed as," Cardoza said. "All of our evidence shows that the Penicos were very much the aggressors and always angry about the driveway situation.
"Murder is absolutely an inappropriate charge in this case, but we will take it head on. This thing will end up in trial, I'm sure."
There were other issues as well: Arguments over newspaper delivery, landscaping and a deer fence that the Littmans and the Alamo Stonegate Homeowners Association sued each other over in 2007.
Gilson said the neighbors live in a homeowners association with a lot of rules, and Doris frequently complained that Michael Littman wouldn't stick to them.
"It seemed he had to have control of a situation, and when he couldn't, he would be a bully," Gilson said. "She didn't want anything unusual; she just didn't wanted the driveway blocked."
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.