Donna Wigmore was supposed to get married in the summer of 1979. Instead she holed up in her parents' backyard, enveloped in shock after her older sister was murdered.
The case went unsolved for three decades, but the pain didn't pass with time. She slipped into depression and obsessed over her sister's last moments – stab after stab.
FOR THE RECORD:
Murder case: In the Dec. 13 California section, a photo caption with an article about the sentencing of a man for the murder of his ex-girlfriend 35 years earlier referred to him as Douglas Gordon. His full name is Douglas Gordon Bradford. —
In a downtown L.A. courtroom Friday, Wigmore shook her head and stared hard at the man convicted of killing her sister, Lynne Knight.
"I have cried an ocean of tears," Wigmore said, as she told a judge about how Douglas Bradford had ruined her life.
The statements came during a dramatic hearing in which Superior Court Judge Curtis B. Rappe sentenced Bradford to 26-years-to-life for Knight's murder.
Bradford fidgeted with his handcuffs and tapped his foot during the hearing. Later, he turned to face the packed courtroom.
Knight's murder was a "terrible tragedy," he said, but he hadn't killed her. Then his voice got louder and spilled out like a hiss.
"I'm mad as hell that I'm paying for someone else's crime," he said.
Bradford briefly dated Knight, a 28-year-old nurse, decades ago while he was an engineering student at Cal State Long Beach. Prosecutors say that when she called things off, he began stalking her.
Eventually, Bradford cobbled together a primitive weapon – a garrote made with pieces of a wooden mop handle and thick wire, Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lewin told jurors. He put the wire around Knight's neck and yanked on the handles, slicing her throat, Lewin said. When that didn't kill her, he grabbed a knife and stabbed her more than 15 times, severing her femoral artery.
A break in the unsolved slaying didn't come until a few years ago, after Lewin and Torrance police detectives reopened the case and found in Bradford's mother's garage a wire like the one used in the killing. He was arrested for murder in 2009 and convicted in August.
During the sentencing, Lewin said Bradford had unfairly walked free for 30 years before he was brought to justice.
"He lived a life he didn't deserve," the prosecutor said.
Bradford's attorneys had earlier filed a motion for a new trial and another saying their client's right to due process had been violated.
But the judge denied both motions Friday, before listening to Knight's family share memories and recount how her violent death had impacted them.
Wigmore told the court she often thinks about how scared her sister must have been in the moments before she died. She wishes she could have read the 23rd Psalm to her, she said, but instead she repeats it like a mantra to herself so she doesn't feel like she's going to explode.
She still thinks about her perfectly planned wedding, which she called off. She still sees the image of her father and brother lifting the blood-soaked mattress into the garbage when they cleaned out her sister's apartment.
"I will never forget the smell of death," she said.
As a bailiff led Bradford from the courtroom, Wigmore stepped toward him. She wanted to remind him that she knew he'd turn 63 behind bars on Saturday.
"Happy birthday!" she screamed.