A Los Angeles jury was unable to decide whether a Long Beach man built a homemade bomb that killed his ex-girlfriend and injured two other women while demolishing an Aliso Viejo day spa, with his nearly two-month-long federal trial ending Monday, Aug. 22, in a mistrial.
Jurors deliberated for more than seven days at the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles before U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton agreed that they were hopelessly deadlocked in the high-profile trial of Stephen Beal for the May 15, 2018, killing of 48-year-old Ilkiko Krajnyak.
Beal will face retrial in late October, after the first jury split 9 to 3 in favor of guilt for the most serious charges, including use of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death. Beal has been in federal custody since March 2019.
“He wanted her, he couldn’t have her, so he didn’t want anyone else to have her,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Takla said.
Beal’s attorneys argued that Beal had no reason to kill Krajnyak, describing him as an innocent man who was caught up in a quick rush to judgment by federal investigators.
“They concluded, because Mr. Beal could have built a bomb, Mr. Beal must have built a bomb,” Craig Harbaugh, one of Beal’s attorneys, told jurors.
Krajnyak was opening a cardboard package in her spa when it detonated, according to a mother and daughter who were getting treatment at the salon and were badly burned in the ensuing explosion but who managed to crawl out of the rubble and survive.
The explosion’s force tore apart half the structure that housed the spa, dislodging bricks from walls, causing the ceiling to collapse and leaving body parts and rubble littering the area.
Beal quickly emerged as the primary suspect.
Beal acknowledged both business and personal ties to Krajnyak, telling investigators that the two met online in 2016, had been dating and were co-owners of the spa.
A search of Beal’s home turned up more than 130 pounds of what a prosecutor called “explosive precursors,” which Beal said was for his model-rocket hobby. But law enforcement officials viewed them as evidence of his ability to craft an explosive devise. Beal was also one of the few people with keys to the spa.
As prosecutors would later tell jurors, investigators viewed Beal as the only person with both the means and the motive to kill Krajnyak, with some who knew Krajnyak telling investigators she was scared of Beal and believed he was stalking her and trying to control her life.
Beal’s attorneys would argued that Beal cooperated fully with the investigation, showing he was an innocent man with nothing to hide.
The defense attorneys say law enforcement officials in their pursuit of Beal failed to fully investigate other potential suspects, including an electrician who was working as a maintenance man and had keys to the spa suite, and, they said, a married former lover of Krajnyak’s who had military experience and whose wife had confronted Krajnyak over the affair.
It would take agents weeks of around-the-clock work to process the spa crime scene, with specialized law enforcement teams flown in from around the country and evidence sent to the FBI crime lab in Quantico, Virginia. At one point during the investigation, an FBI agent said the efforts were “like looking for something microscopic in a building that was hit by a tornado.”
According to testimony during the trial, the investigators found a chunk of battery that they believed was used as the power source for the bomb, and through serial numbers tracked it to a shipment of batteries sent to CVS stores in Southern California in March 2018. Prosecutors say receipts and surveillance footage show that days before the explosion Beal purchased such a battery, along with a box that one of the women who survived the explosion identified as looking similar to the box that held the bomb.
Prosecutors allege that Beal planted the bomb on May 11, four days before the explosion, while Krajnyak was on a trip to Hungary with another man. Surveillance footage showed Beal’s Prius entering a parking lot a block away from the spa that day.
Beal’s attorneys told jurors that Beal traveled to the spa that day to check to see if an outlet at the business could handle a new machine Krajnyak had purchased during her trip to Europe. The defense attorneys said Beal only stayed at the salon for about 10 minutes, which they argued was not enough time for him to arm the explosive device.
The exact status of Beal’s relationship with Krajnyak leading up to her death is unclear.
Beal told investigators that their relationship had “cooled” after he learned while they were on a trip to Portugal that she had been with another man. Prosecutors said Krajnyak had told friends she broke up with Beal because he was ‘boring,” and painted a subsequent trip to Mexico as Beal’s last-ditch effort to reconcile with Krajnyak.
When Krajnyak began dating another man — who she traveled with to Hungary — Beal went into a rage, prosecutors told jurors.
Beal’s attorney’s denied that Beal was angry at Krajnyak, telling jurors that the two were actually in a romantic, non-exclusive relationship, and saying Beal had also begun dating someone else.
The defense attorneys also downplayed the chemicals found in Beal’s Long Beach home, showing jurors photos of the buckets they were contained in covered with dust as proof they hadn’t been used in years and noting that Beal made no effort to hide the chemicals while voluntarily allowing investigators to search his home.
Beal was initially arrested for possessing an unregistered explosive device — but not Krajnyak’s death — shortly after the bombing. Those charges were dropped, as prosecutors determined the device he possessed may have been legal.
In March 2019, nearly a year after the bombing, prosecutors filed new charges directly accusing Beal of being responsible for Krajnyak’s death.
Speaking to attorneys outside the courtroom following the mistrial, at least one juror who indicated she had voted not guilty agreed with the defense that investigators had shown “tunnel vision” by focusing on Beal.
Separate from the spa bombing case, Beal in January 2020 was charged in a federal case with fraud for allegedly failing to disclose during bankruptcy proceedings a $350,000 life-insurance settlement he received when his wife, Christine Beal, died in 2008.
Beal claimed his wife, who was 48, died from traumatic pancreatitis after falling down a flight of stairs while carrying a 49-pound end table. Los Angeles County coroner’s records describe her cause of death as “undetermined,” noting she was suffering from “pancreatitis, electrolyte imbalance” and “chronic lead intoxication,” but finding no evidence of foul play.
Following the spa bombing, the Long Beach Police Department launched a new investigation into Christine Beal’s death. That investigation ultimately turned up nothing that contradicted the coroner’s report, police officials recently confirmed.