Editor’s Note: Some details in this article may be disturbing for some readers.
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — There are dozens of slayings in Kern County each year, but the murder of Yvette Pena at a Bakersfield motel received particular notoriety.
Her killing in 2011 stood out not only for its gruesomeness, but for the heavily-tattooed, remorseless man who eventually admitted carrying it out.
Jamie Osuna, 34, has a “Joker” smile tattooed on his face and a pentagram on his forehead. There’s hardly a spot on his face untouched by ink.
In interviews with former KGET reporter Olivia LaVoice, Osuna described the thrill he got from killing Pena, whose torture-slaying he admitted to and received a sentence of life without parole.
“I recognize myself as one who is not afraid to indulge himself without the consequences and let society mold him into, as laws change, and as society changes, people change with it,” Osuna told LaVoice before trial began.
“I’m self-made, and I’m proud of it,” he said.
For Osuna, murder is a rush. And it’s alleged, after Pena’s death, he indulged in it again.
Nexstar’s KGET has previously chronicled Osuna’s crimes in extensive news coverage and “The Man With A Thousand Faces” podcast.
Why a thousand faces?
One, Osuna has steadily added to his tattoos, becoming nearly unrecognizable from when first seen in court a decade ago. Each new piece of ink changes his look, sometimes subtly, sometimes drastically.
The difference in his look now from how he appeared a decade ago is extraordinary.
Second, Osuna bestowed himself with the name, writing it in blood on the walls of his cell. Read on to learn more about that disturbing scene and other details of his heinous crimes.
‘Truly horrific’ injuries
On Nov. 13, 2011, police were called to a report of a body found in a room at the El Morocco Motel in Bakersfield. Pena, a mother of six who had fallen on hard times and was living in the motel, had suffered numerous grisly injuries.
Coroner’s officials ruled Pena died of blunt force injuries, sharp-force injuries and asphyxia.
Prosecutor Nick Lackie didn’t go into detail on what had been done to Pena, but said she suffered “truly horrific” injuries.
Police arrested Osuna five days later after surrounding an apartment where he was staying in west Bakersfield. He pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, among other offenses, and his case slowly made its way through the court system.
In 2017, Osuna agreed to an interview with LaVoice. The reporter was stunned when, instead of more denials, Osuna admitted to killing Pena and said he was going to plead guilty.
He stressed he wasn’t doing it to save Pena’s family the pain of a lengthy trial where disturbing photos would be displayed; he just preferred to go to prison rather than stay in county jail.
On May 14, 2017, Osuna was sentenced to life without parole during a hearing in which he mocked Pena’s family, smirking and rolling his eyes as they described to the court the torment Osuna brought to their lives. He gave a thumbs-up sign as Judge John S. Somers pronounced the sentence.
Those expecting even an iota of remorse were left disappointed; Osuna appeared amused, as if he enjoyed the attention.
Deputies led him away. In the following days he was transported out of Kern County and into the custody of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
It wouldn’t be long before he again received media attention, this time nationally.
Decapitation at Corcoran State Prison
Osuna was transported to Corcoran State Prison in Kings County. He was eventually given a cellmate, Luis Romero, 44, who had spent more than two decades in prison for fatally shooting a woman in Los Angeles.
Photo of Luis Romero
On the morning of March 9, 2019, Corcoran guards checked their cell and made a shocking discovery: Romero had been beheaded, an eye stabbed and other body parts removed; Osuna wore a necklace made of parts of his cellmate’s body.
“Hahaha” was written in blood all over the walls. Also written on a wall was “the man with a thousand faces.”
If Osuna wanted attention, he got it. His mugshot went nationwide in articles detailing the ghastly crime and Osuna’s criminal history.
Kings County Assistant District Attorney Phil Esbenshade called the slaying the most gruesome case he’s ever seen. He said a weapon found in the cell appeared to have been made from a razor with string wrapped around it.
The following month, Osuna pleaded not guilty to murder and other counts.
A series of hearings in Kings County Superior Court have been held, many dealing with Osuna’s competency to stand trial. Whenever he appears in court — a number of hearings have been held remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic — he is surrounded by deputies.
At one hearing, in May 2020, Osuna interrupted the judge and attorneys.
“I don’t want a preliminary hearing,” Osuna said. “I want to plead guilty to murder.”
He made an unusual request: he sought possession of all crime scene photos. Superior Court Judge Randy Edwards denied Osuna, saying there was “no compelling reason” for him to have them.
Edwards cited longstanding California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation policy prohibiting inmates from possessing crime scene photos due to security risks, and noted Osuna has previously been shown the photos and could request to view them again.
The judge said there were 205 photos taken of the crime scene, and 67 autopsy photos. Almost all of them are “extremely graphic or violent,” he said.
Osuna refused to speak with psychiatrists, but in January 2021 he was found incompetent to stand trial after hundreds of pages of medical records, including mental health records, that had been turned over by CDCR were reviewed.
Dr. Brandi Mathews said at the hearing the reports indicated Osuna was experiencing increased paranoia. He refused to take medications, no longer left his cell and believed people were “setting him up,” she said of the reports.
“There was documentation to support that with the decrease of medications there was an increase in his psychosis,” she said.
Osuna has been diagnosed with unspecified schizophrenia spectrum, antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mathews and another psychiatrist, Dr. Kevin Perry, determined Osuna did not understand the criminal proceedings against him and could not assist his legal team in the preparation of a defense.
Criminal proceedings were suspended and Osuna was transferred to the psychiatric inpatient program at Salinas Valley State Prison.
Months later, psychiatrists found he had been restored to competency. A judge has not yet made a ruling on that finding due to a series of delays, the latest occurring June 2 when Osuna fired his attorneys.
His new attorney, Hugo Gomez-Vidal, now must review court documents and medical records and decide whether he disputes psychiatrists’ findings Osuna is competent.
The next hearing is scheduled July 22.
Romero’s death raised a number of questions, perhaps the most compelling being how Osuna managed to carry out the decapitation and other gruesome injuries with no one noticing.
A report last year from the Office of the Inspector General provided an answer: the guards tasked with doing cell checks lied.
According to inspector general, two guards allegedly falsified reports saying they saw Romero alive during their rounds after he had been slain.
“A third officer and a fourth officer allegedly did not report that they had each observed the first two officers fail to properly conduct the counts,” according to the report. “The first officer also allegedly lied
during his Office of Internal Affairs’ interview.”
The report says the special agent who conducted the investigation failed to interview several key witnesses and didn’t look into whether officers appropriately placed Osuna and Romero together.
A CDCR conference on the investigation’s findings was delayed, according to the report, as were disciplinary actions against the officers, who “entered into settlement agreements that reduced the penalties without identifying any new evidence, flaws, or risks that would have justified the reductions.”
In response, CDCR released the following statement: “Due to the extraordinary nature and complexity of this case, the department committed to ensuring a thorough and complete investigation from the very beginning. We respectfully disagree with the OIG’s assessment into this case, as based on our investigation and findings, all of the disciplinary actions in this case were served within mandated statutory timeframes.”
Dora Solares, Romero’s mother, has filed a lawsuit against the prison sergeant who placed her son in Osuna’s cell.
In January, U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd ruled the suit can proceed as it’s plausible to infer Sgt. Joseph Burns and other unidentified guards at Corcoran State Prison “responsible for the day-to-day implementation of cellmate selection decisions were aware that Osuna should not be celled with another inmate and, relatedly, that this was because he posed a serious danger to others.”
The judge, however, dismissed Ralph Diaz, former secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and Ken Clark, warden at Corcoran State Prison, as defendants. The judge found Solares failed to adequately establish claims of wrongful death and negligent supervision against them.
Drozd ruled Solares had failed to establish the warden could have foreseen procedures for housing inmates would be ignored.
The next hearing is scheduled Oct. 11.
In 2019, Romero’s family spoke with KGET after attending one of Osuna’s hearings. They expressed anger and frustration over what they said was a preventable death.
“We’re here because Luis is family, he’s more than just another prisoner, another victim of Osuna, he is my mother’s son, my brother and we love him,” said Dora Garcia, Luis Romero’s sister. “We want to be here to represent the family and so that everyone knows that Luis is not alone and we’re here for him.”
Why, Garcia asked, would Osuna, who has expressed his love of killing, be given a cellmate?
“(Romero) was eligible for parole soon,” Garcia said. “My mother and my sister and I always hoped to see him home one day, but that hope is dead.”