2 Convicted of Killing Officer, Could Get the Death Penalty
Two juries returned first-degree murder verdicts Friday against Raynard Cummings and Kenneth Gay for the shooting death of a Los Angeles policeman who had stopped them two years ago for a minor traffic violation.
As the verdicts were read, a murmur of approval was heard in the courtroom, which was filled to capacity with police and friends of the slain officer, 35-year-old Paul Verna.
Verna’s widow, Camille, wept as the verdicts were announced in San Fernando Superior Court. Upon hearing the jury’s decision, Cummings, 28, winced and then nodded at Gay, 27.
Because both men were found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of an on-duty police officer, they face either the death penalty or life imprisonment without possibility of parole. The juries will begin the penalty phases of the trials later this month.
“We are absolutely pleased and delighted,” said Officer John Leonard, who was working with Verna in the Foothill Division on June 2, 1983, the night of the slaying. “Now I want the death penalty, so that no other family will have to go through the same suffering as Paul Verna’s wife and two children.”
Verna, who was a Medal of Valor recipient, stopped Cummings and Gay on a Lake View Terrace street after they sped through a stop sign.
As the policeman walked up to the car, Cummings pulled a handgun and shot the officer from the back seat, police testified. After Verna fell to the street, Gay jumped out of the car and, standing over the fallen officer, allegedly shot him five more times, police said.
Prosecutors said that the defendants, who had committed a string of 14 robberies during the weeks before the murder, bragged to friends and relatives that they would shoot anyone who “got in the way.”
Afraid of Arrest
Deputy Dist. Atty. John Watson said that the two men shot Verna when they became afraid that the motorcycle officer would arrest them. They were armed ex-convicts riding in a stolen car driven by Cummings’ wife, who was not carrying a driver’s license, Watson said.
Four weeks after jury selection began last September, Cummings pleaded guilty before Judge Dana Senit Henry to 17 charges in connection with a series of robberies. That forced the murder portion of the trial, which began April 1, to be held before separate juries.
During the murder trial, Watson used testimony from Cummings’ wife, Pamela, to argue that Cummings and Gay committed a “two-part murder” with Cummings firing as many as two shots at Verna from the back seat of the car before handing the gun to Gay.
Watson brought in a mannequin drilled with holes to show that the entry angles of the bullets indicated that the first two shots to strike Verna must have been fired from the back seat.
He also called several jail inmates and sheriff’s deputies to testify that they had heard Cummings brag about his role in the shooting.
But Cummings’ defense attorneys, Howard Price and Edward Rucker, argued that gunshot residue tests showed that Gay fired all the shots. The lawyers also put on the stand a pathologist who disputed the accuracy of the county coroner’s report.
Cummings, Gay and their wives, all residents of Pacoima, were arrested in San Diego two days after Verna was killed.
Gay’s wife, Robin, 24, was sentenced last year to six years in state prison after she was convicted on three counts of robbery and being an accessory to Verna’s murder.
Pamela Cummings, who has pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the murder, testified against both her husband and Gay at their murder trials and was the prosecution’s chief witness against Robin Gay. Pamela Cummings awaits sentencing.
Both Raynard Cummings and Kenneth Gay have lengthy criminal histories, according to court documents. In 1979, Gay was sentenced to state prison for firebombing the house of an estranged girlfriend. He was paroled in May, 1982. Cummings was convicted of residential burglary and assault in Delaware, law enforcement officials said.
Earlier this year, Cummings was stabbed with a crude knife by a fellow inmate in Los Angeles County Jail. He suffered a collapsed lung but recovered. In 1983, he was accused by jail officials of concocting a plot to lace postage stamps with cyanide in an attempt to kill both Kenneth and Robin Gay. However, no charges were filed.
Verna himself provided the key that led to the capture of the four suspects in San Diego. Verna had written Pamela Cummings’ name on a piece of paper just before he was fatally shot. Although Verna’s pistol was taken, neither Cummings nor Gay took the the scrap of paper, which was found on Verna’s body. With that information, in addition to detailed descriptions from witnesses of the suspects and the car, police were able to arrest the four 33 hours later.
Verna was the recipient of a Medal of Valor award for his rescue of two handicapped children from a burning building in Chatsworth in December, 1981.
Times staff writer Janet Rae-Dupree contributed to this story.