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‘I hope I see you on the streets,’ the defendant told the judge. : Killer Sentenced to 30 Years in Attack on Santa Ana Couple

Times Staff Writer

Convicted killer Ivan Von Staich received a 30-year-to-life sentence Friday and then told the Orange County Superior Court judge that “I hope I see you on the streets.”

Staich, who has a history of jail escapes, made the threat after Judge Robert R. Fitzgerald described him as “more dangerous” than criminals he has sentenced to die.

Fitzgerald sentenced Staich for fatally shooting Robert Topper, 29, the husband of Staich’s former girlfriend, Cynthia Topper, 25, and then attacking her with a claw hammer after he broke into their Santa Ana house on Dec. 8, 1983.

Fitzgerald said he wanted to put the burly, 6-foot-2 defendant away “for life” but was prevented from doing so because the trial jury had found him guilty of second-degree murder for Topper’s death and attempted murder in the attack on the woman.

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Maximum Punishment

“I’m giving you the maximum punishment under the law,” Fitzgerald said. “I have sentenced four people to death in this courtroom . . . but none of which I found to be as dangerous as you, Mr. Staich. You can’t control your violence.”

Twice Staich interrupted the judge to comment that it may be impossible for prison guards to keep him incarcerated in view of his history of escapes. When the judge told Staich, “Have a good day,” Staich said softly but in a voice heard by many in the courtroom, “I hope I see you on the streets.”

In a subsequent interview, Fitzgerald said such threats “came with the territory.”

“It doesn’t bother me at all. It’s not the first time that some defendant has threatened me,” he said. He said he plans no additional legal action.

Staich, who escaped Jan. 26 from the County Jail with another inmate, said after his capture in Springfield, Mass., last February that he would try at his first opportunity to escape again.

Staich was convicted in 1978 for escaping from Riverside County Jail, where he was awaiting trial on arson charges, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard King. He also escaped from the California Youth Authority as a juvenile, King added.

During Friday’s hourlong hearing, the victim’s mother and father-in-law testified that they wanted Staich “put away for good.”

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Shirley Topper told the court that when her son died, “a good part of me died too. He was a special young man and a good father.” Robert Topper’s daughter is now 7, she said.

“The person that took his life should not be allowed to walk the streets ever again,” she said.

The attack on Cynthia Topper left her so severely beaten that she was in a coma and eventually needed brain surgery twice. Her father, Loren Bess, said that at times things get “cloudy’ for her.

“It’s like a cloud passing over her, I can’t explain it because you have to see it. When it happens, she stares into space. It’s not the Cyndi we remember,” he said.

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Bess said that his daughter has had trouble with a metal plate implanted in her skull as a result of the beating, and visited Loma Linda University Hospital this week because of a trachea injury related to the beating.

Bess urged the judge to give Staich the death penalty, because he favored “an eye for an eye.” Putting Staich in prison won’t change him, Bess said. Staich always had threatened people, Bess said, adding, “He’ll never change.”

Both parents said they had received telephone calls from someone threatening them with physical harm before Staich was imprisoned in the County Jail and after he had escaped.

When the defendant was allowed to speak on his behalf, he apologized to both. He told the victim’s families that he “felt remorseful” toward them, although he doubted whether the parents “really knew” their children.

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He said he was sorry about the incident, but that Cynthia Topper had romantically “led him on” while he was in prison on another offense. He said he viewed her husband as an intruder to the relationship.

“The man (Robert Topper) had moved into my position, he was living with Cyndi. I made threats. (But) I’m a kind of big guy and a forceful individual. I really didn’t mean to carry them out,” he said.

Recalling the day of the attack, Staich said that the jury failed to take into account the fact that he went to the Topper house only to speak to his former girlfriend, but that her husband pulled a gun. Staich said he was wounded by Robert Topper before taking the gun from him and firing it himself.

“When he shot me, it was like survival. My instincts took over. . . . I decided to pick up a gun and shoot,” he said.

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However, prosecutor King, who referred to Staich as an “animal,” a man who shouldn’t be in society, took exception to the defendant’s remorse as an insult to the victims’ families.

“How remorseful was he when he got the gun and pumped three shots into Topper and watched his body jump?” the prosecutor asked.

“How remorseful was he when he was bashing Cynthia Topper’s head in?”

King said later that in view of Staich’s record and history of escapes, he could be incarcerated for the “rest of his natural life.”

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