Killer ex-boyfriend is sorry; husband faces homicide trial

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An Alpine man who shot his girlfriend to death while she was on her way to work at an El Cajon care center was sentenced July 30 to 40 years to life in state prison.

Paul Alan Paraschak, 44, apologized before he was sentenced for shooting Melanie “Ling Ling” Benitez, 27, who worked at the Victoria Post Acute Care Center as a nursing assistant.

El Cajon Superior Court Judge John Thompson imposed 15 years to life for Paraschak’s guilty plea to second-degree murder and added 25 years for his acknowledgement of personal use of a handgun in a homicide.

Thompson fined Paraschak $10,000 and gave him credit for 524 days spent in jail since the Feb. 23, 2019, incident.

Benitez was shot seven times outside Paraschak’s white Lincoln that was parked in an Alpine driveway. Neither of them knew who lived there, and the shooting occurred apparently after an argument.

Deputy District Attorney Jessica Lees read a letter out loud that was written by the victim’s sister, Melody Benitez. Paraschak’s attorney could not be reached for comment afterwards.

    

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A judge ordered Thomas Wayne Zupner to stand trial for murder July 27 in the death of his husband, Blake Synowski, who died from asphyxia when he was force fed matzo crackers and water.

The audio in the 2-day preliminary hearing in El Cajon Superior Court was live streamed on the YouTube Channel with 25 listeners on the court website including members of Synowski’s family in Washington.

Synowski, 62, was an El Cajon dentist, but had been ill for awhile and had a history of falls, according to Zupner’s attorney, Paul Pfingst. He died Sept. 17, 2019, in the couple’s Rancho San Diego home on Explorer Road.

Zupner, 65, appeared remotely from a room at the Vista Detention Facility.  Pfingst, who is the former District Attorney, and prosecutor Meredith Pro also appeared remotely.

The courts have been mostly closed due to the spread of COVID-19. Pfingst asked Judge Robert Amador to drastically lower his $2 million bail.

“He’s been sitting in jail and is at high risk for COVID-19,” said Pfingst. “He has a viable defense. He’s not at risk to the public.”

Pfingst said jury trials will likely not occur until next year.

Pro opposed the motion, but Amador reduced the bail to $250,000.

Pfingst said the murder charge is the wrong offense and at most his client is guilty of involuntary manslaughter because he said the death was accidental.

Pro told Amador she would be seeking a second-degree murder conviction, which carries a penalty of 15 years to life in prison.

The couple were together for 11 years.

“We all know that breathing is essential to life,” argued Pro.

“Shoving food down someone’s throat could result in an obstructed airway,” said Pro, adding that it was “unbelievable” that Zupner would not know that was dangerous.

Pro said there was “a struggle for power,” and “Mr. Synowski was trying to get away.”

Pfingst countered: “He was calling to request medical help for his husband. Thomas Zupner acted out of love for his husband.”

“It’s an accident, a tragic accident that happened here,” said Pfingst, who unsuccessfully asked that the murder charge be dropped.

“This is an absolute tragedy,” began Amador.

“This should have been avoided.”

“Forcing someone to eat is domestic violence,” said the judge. “There is not an issue where he has to be fed.”

Amador said Zupner’s fingers were bitten by Synowksi, a sign he said that he didn’t want to be force fed.

Zupner remains in the Vista Detention Facility and will return to court on Aug. 10 to get a trial date set. He has pleaded not guilty.