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Set Victim’s Bed Afire : Man Sentenced to Death in Rape Slaying

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Times Staff Writer

A Palmdale man was sentenced Thursday to die in the gas chamber for killing a woman whom he raped and beat before setting her bed on fire.

Lancaster Superior Court Judge Margaret Grignon ruled that James Scott, 26, should be executed because the murder of Wanda Jensen met the special circumstances required for the death penalty. Evidence showed that the murder took place during a planned burglary and rape in 1986, that Scott used a dangerous weapon and that he intended to kill Jensen when he set fire to her bed and left her lying unconscious, Grignon said.

Grignon also cited Scott’s previous felony convictions for rape and assault with a deadly weapon as aggravating factors.

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It was the first death sentence handed down in an Antelope Valley courtroom, court officials said. The sentence will be automatically appealed to the state Supreme Court.

“This is not something to rejoice in,” said Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Kent Cahill, who had argued that Scott should die because he poses a danger to the public and to fellow inmates. “But it is a correct ruling. There may be a place in God’s realm for David Scott, but there is no such place in ours.”

Guilty of Murder

On April 20, Grignon found Scott guilty of first-degree murder charges filed after Jensen died in February, 1987, of complications from burns suffered in the early morning attack in April, 1986. Scott told investigators he broke into Jensen’s apartment, threatened her with a screwdriver, raped her, choked her into unconsciousness and beat her with a baseball bat before setting the bed on fire.

Jensen’s 5-year-old daughter was asleep in the next room during the attack. She testified that she was awakened by a smoke alarm and saw her mother in the bed surrounded by flames. The badly burned woman managed to stagger to a neighbor’s apartment carrying her daughter.

At the time of the non-jury trial, Scott was already serving a 42-year state prison sentence for the assault on Jensen and another attack in which he raped and slashed the face of a woman who is the grandmother of his child.

On Thursday, Grignon rejected a motion by defense attorney William Clark that Scott receive a sentence of life imprisonment without parole rather than the death penalty. Clark cited the judge’s finding last month that Jensen’s death of pneumonia and other burn-related complications was partly due to negligent medical treatment.

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Clark also noted that Scott, who blamed his actions on an evil alter-ego named “Tony” and pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, had turned himself in and confessed four days after attacking Jensen.

But Grignon said the finding of medical negligence and Scott’s surrender to authorities did not outweigh the aggravating circumstances of the crime.

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