Jury Recommends Execution for 1 of 2 Gunmen Who Killed Policeman

Times Staff Writer

A San Fernando Superior Court jury Wednesday recommended the execution of Kenneth Gay, one of two men convicted of gunning down a Los Angeles police officer during a routine traffic stop in Lake View Terrace.

Gay, 27, did not react as the jury's recommendation was read after three hours of deliberation. The same jury last month convicted Gay of first-degree murder for shooting officer Paul Verna, who stopped Gay and co-defendant Raynard Cummings on June 2, 1983, after their car ran a stop sign.

Judge Dana Senit Henry has the option of rejecting the jury's recommendation and ordering Gay to serve a term of life in prison without possibility of parole when Gay appears for sentencing on Sept. 4.

Henry also can sentence Gay to as much as 25 years in prison for his conviction on 14 additional charges in connection with a violent, six-week string of robberies Gay and Cummings committed before the murder.

2nd Jury for Cummings

A separate jury heard murder evidence against Cummings because he pleaded guilty to the robbery charges and, under the law, the robbery evidence could not be introduced against him, but was allowed at Gay's trial. After a hearing scheduled to begin July 15, Cummings' jury will decide whether to recommend the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole.

According to testimony during the murder trial, Cummings fired the first shot into Verna, a 1981 winner of the police Medal of Valor, as the officer leaned into the car to ask the two men for identification. Testimony indicated that Cummings then handed the gun to Gay, who jumped out of the car and fired the remaining five bullets into Verna.

Deputy Dist. Atty. John Watson, who prosecuted the case, said the men killed the officer because they were armed ex-convicts riding in a stolen car driven by Cummings' wife, who was not carrying a driver's license, and were afraid they would be arrested.

Comment From Lawyer

Defense attorney Daye Shinn said he was not surprised by the jury's verdict.

"When you kill a police officer, what do you expect?" he asked. Shinn plans to file a motion for a new trial and appeal the jury's verdict after he reviews the 11,300-page transcript of the four-month trial, he said.

Watson, who told jurors during closing arguments that Verna's murder "was a calm, cool execution," said he was pleased with the jury's decision.

"One of the most important things to come out of this is that maybe other police officers are a little bit safer in their jobs," Watson said. "But full justice cannot be achieved as long as Paul Verna is dead, his widow does not have a husband and his children do not have a father."

Foreman Linda Lettau said the jurors, who began deliberations in the penalty phase of the case late Tuesday afternoon, decided to "sleep on it" before they took a final vote Wednesday morning.

'Want to Be Sure'

"Because of the duration of the trial, you start getting more emotionally involved than you want to," Lettau said, noting that jurors were first called to the case almost nine months ago. "When you get into the penalty phase, you look at this person you've known for a long time and you want to be sure the decision you make is right."

Juror Jay Cochetti of Canoga Park said the facts convinced him that the death penalty was appropriate.

Staff writer Anne Valdespino contributed to this article.

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