Man ordered to stand trial in movie theater double killing

September 3, 2022 GMT

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A man charged with fatally shooting two teenagers at a Southern California movie theater during a 2021 showing of “The Forever Purge” was ordered held for trial Friday on two counts of murder.

Joseph Jimenez Jr., 21, appeared in Riverside County Superior Court. The murder charges include sentencing enhancements that would make him eligible for the death penalty if convicted, although the district attorney’s office hadn’t decided whether to seek that sentence.

He has pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. Prosecutors say the two different pleas are necessary because there will be two phases if the case goes to trial: a guilt phase, and if he is found guilty, a second phase to determine whether Jimenez was legally insane at the time of the crime.

Jimenez is accused of shooting two people in the back of the head as they watched a late-night showing of the horror-action film at a theater in Corona, southeast of Los Angeles, on July 26, 2021.

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At Friday’s hearing, two friends who had gone to see the movie with Jimenez testified that his behavior that night had them “weirded out.”

“Joseph was talking to himself the whole time. It was groaning noises. It was random,” testified Julian Velasquez, a classmate from Santiago High in Corona, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported.

Jimenez also stared strangely at his friends. At one point, he went out to his car and returned with a satchel. He kept a hand buried in a satchel and claimed that it held a “strap,” or slang for a gun, the friends testified.

The friends said they were so uncomfortable with his behavior that they left the theater, pretending that they had to use the bathroom. They didn’t contact authorities.

Prosecutors allege that a few minutes later, Jimenez left his back-row seat, walked up and shot Rylee Goodrich, 18, and Anthony Barajas, 19. They were the only other people in the theater.

Goodrich died at the scene. Barajas, a budding social media star, died at a hospital.

At the hearing, Ramon Felis testified that he didn’t believe at the time that Goodrich and Barajas were in danger. However, several friends went to the police the next day after learning about the shootings.

A week after the shooting, Jimenez told a reporter that he had schizophrenia and had heard voices telling him to kill the teenagers in order to save his friends and family from harm.

Jimenez said he was diagnosed with schizophrenia about eight months earlier but had recently stopped taking his medication.