Livaditis Gets Death Penalty for Jewelry Store Killings

Times Staff Writer

Describing the killings during last year's bloody siege at a Beverly Hills jewelry store as "ruthless, monstrous and premeditated," Santa Monica Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband on Wednesday sentenced a 23-year-old drifter to the gas chamber.

The defendant, Steven Livaditis, displayed no outward emotion in the heavily guarded courtroom and made no public comments as the judge ordered him to die in San Quentin's gas chamber. Nearby, his mother, Sophia Livaditis of Athens, quietly wept.

Feelings on Slayings

When asked by a probation officer how he felt about the three slayings during the siege, Livaditis, in a probation report made public before the sentencing hearing, replied:

"Not very bad. In the beginning I felt a tremendous amount of guilt and regret that it happened . . . I realize what I did and how horrible it is. . . .

"Then I started reading the Bible and learned I could be forgiven. . . . Ever since I accepted Jesus, I have a clear conscience."

Livaditis said he does not believe he will soon be executed. "It'll be a number of years. . . . I hope to have the sentence commuted and maybe get out someday," he was quoted as telling the probation officer. He also revealed that he is looking forward to studying law in San Quentin and is contemplating marrying a 22-year-old girlfriend.

There has not been an execution at San Quentin since April, 1967, although 210 other inmates have been sentenced to die. An appeal of the death sentence to the state Supreme Court is automatic.

The daylong siege at the exclusive Van Cleef & Arpels gem store on Rodeo Drive on June 23, 1986, resulted in the deaths of the shop's security guard, William Richard Smith, 54; a store clerk, Ann Heilperin, 40, and the store manager, Hugh Skinner, 60.

Livaditis, in the probation report, said he decided to rob the jewelry store because "I was running out of money." According to testimony at his trial, he had been drifting from job to job, from Brooklyn, N.Y., where he was raised by a Greek family of modest means, to Las Vegas, where he was wanted by authorities for participating in a jewelry store robbery in February, 1986.

The first to die at the Van Cleef store was Smith, who tried to come to the aid of a clerk after Livaditis drew a .357-magnum revolver. "The security guard was annoying me, you might say," Livaditis told the probation officer. "He called me some names. I had a lot of anger. I felt I had to take control of the situation."

At that point, witnesses said, Livaditis tied Smith's hands behind him and stabbed him in the back. The guard died shortly afterward.

The clerk, Heilperin, had been crying, and Livaditis tied her hands behind her back and ordered her to lie down next to Smith's body, according to testimony. He then shot her in the back of the head.

Tried to Escape

Hours later, while more than four dozen police officers and sheriff's deputies, many armed with automatic weapons, tried to coax Livaditis out of the shop, he made a bid for freedom, surrounding himself with three hostages. During the escape attempt, store manager Skinner was mistakenly slain by a sheriff's sharpshooter.

Shortly after Livaditis' trial began last April, he surprised the court by pleading guilty to three counts of first-degree murder, including five counts of special circumstances involving burglary, robbery and multiple murder, making him eligible for the death penalty. Then, last month, a jury turned aside the plea of Public Defender Michael H. Demby for a life sentence without possibility of parole and recommended sending Livaditis to the gas chamber.

Throughout his trial, Livaditis showed little emotion and never took the witness stand. Deputy Dist. Atty. Dona Bracke painted a picture of a rebellious drifter whom a close-knit family couldn't control despite showering him with love and attention.

Showed No Remorse

"He has not shown any regret or remorse," Bracke told the court on Wednesday. "I don't know how many (murders) it takes to justify a death penalty, but in this case three is enough. It's too many."

The report by probation officer Barry J. Nidorf also commented on Livaditis' lack of remorse during their interview. "Rather, he focused on the impact on his own life. He does not truly accept responsibility and accountability for his actions. He almost justifies them by focusing on the actions of the victims and the police as leading to their occurrence."

In pronouncing the death sentence, Judge Rittenband said he had "given deep consideration" to modifying the jury's decision and sending Livaditis to prison for the rest of his life, the judge's only other option under the guilty plea. But, the veteran jurist said, "I could not come up with any possible reason to alter the jury's finding."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
66°