Sacto 9-1-1
October 25, 2011
Defendant in ax murder case ordered to stand trial

RB Axe Murder 3.JPGBy Sam Stanton

The Rio Linda man accused of using an ax to kill a man he thought had burglarized his house was ordered this morning to stand trial on a murder charge, and his defense attorney said he likely will enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Steven Zinda, 30, is accused in the March 20 slaying of 20-year-old David Valdez. Zinda has been jailed since the slaying and after a brief preliminary hearing in Sacramento Superior Court this morning was ordered to stand trial.

Judge Ernest Sawtelle, after hearing testimony from sheriff's Detective Stanley Swisher, decided there was enough evidence to show Zinda must face trial and ordered him returned for arraignment on Nov. 7.

Zinda's defense attorney, Tom Johnson, said after the hearing that he expected to enter an insanity plea then. Such a plea, if successful, could result in Zinda being found guilty of a lesser charge such as manslaughter and have him sent to a mental institution. If physicians later deemed him mentally competent, he would be sent to prison.

Zinda suffered a severe brain trauma in 1999 when he was hit by a drunken driver, and his family says he was never the same after that.

According to testimony today, Zinda came home in the early morning hours of March 20 to discover his garage door open and his house ransacked by burglars.

He initially grabbed a golf club and swung it at a white car parked in front of his house that was driving away. He then spotted Valdez standing down the street about 25 to 30 feet north of his house and grabbed an ax from his garage, Swisher said under questioning from Deputy District Attorney Sheri Greco.

With Zinda's family sitting on one side of the courtroom and the Valdez family on the other, Swisher then explained how Zinda had described confronting Valdez.

"What, did you buddies leave you?" Zinda asked Valdez.

Valdez had been at a house party down the street but became stranded when his Honda Passport got stuck in a ditch, Swisher said.

Zinda began chasing Valdez down the street with the ax, eventually catching up to him in a pasture, where Valdez had fallen. Zinda told Swisher later that he hit him several times in the head with the ax, the detective testified, and when a photograph of the victim and his wounds was introduced into evidence members of the Valdez family left the courtroom sobbing.

They declined to comment after the hearing, and Zinda's father, Steve Zinda Sr., said afterward that his family also was devastated by the incident.

The elder Zinda, 55, said he believed his son's brain injury had affected his thought process and that he had been concerned for the safety of his 2-year-old son over the burglary.

The boy was not home at the time of the incident.

Photo caption: Steven A. Zinda listens to proceedings during a preliminary hearing in Sacramento Superior Court on Tuesday, October 25, 2011. Photo by Randall Benton /

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