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Lawyer Makes Plea for Killer’s Life : Penalty: The nurse who paid to have her roommate killed is called a model inmate. The prosecution says she is still a threat.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 42-year-old registered nurse convicted of hiring a co-worker to murder her roommate should be spared the death penalty because she has been a model jail inmate since her arrest and will be punished enough by a life in prison, her attorney told a Van Nuys Superior Court jury Friday.

Joe Ingber asked jurors to recommend a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for Maureen McDermott, saying she “is already dead as far as freedom. The only question is when she will physically die.”

“She is never going to have privacy the rest of her life. She’s not going to go for a drive. . . . She’ll never see the ocean again nor will she ever have a chance to see the stars. . . . Every day, someone will be telling her when to get up, where to go, when to go to sleep,” Ingber said.

Since her arrest nearly five years ago, McDermott has been a model inmate at Sybil Brand Institute, where she once saved the life of a prisoner choking on an apple and another time alerted deputies to an inmate’s suicide attempt, Ingber said.

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But Deputy Dist. Atty. Katherine Mader on Thursday called McDermott a “mutation of a human being.” Mader asked jurors to recommend a sentence of death in the gas chamber, saying McDermott might someday plot to kill a fellow prison inmate or official.

“Nobody with a heart or a soul could possibly have done what Maureen McDermott did in this case,” Mader told the jury, which on March 2 convicted McDermott of first-degree murder with special circumstances in the April 28, 1985, death of Stephen Eldridge. The jury also convicted McDermott of attempted murder in a failed March 21, 1985, attempt on Eldridge’s life.

McDermott faces the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole because the jury found that she lay in wait to kill Eldridge and did so for financial gain. The ultimate decision will be up to Superior Court Judge Alan B. Haber.

Eldridge, 27, was stabbed 44 times and his penis was cut off in the Van Nuys house that he shared with McDermott, a former nurse at County-USC Medical Center.

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Prosecutors said McDermott hired James Flores Luna, a former orderly, to kill Eldridge so that she could collect on a $100,000 mortgage insurance policy on the house they co-owned, prosecutors contended.

McDermott instructed Luna to mutilate Eldridge’s body in hopes of making it look like a homosexual crime of passion, which she thought less likely to be thoroughly investigated by police, Mader told jurors.

Prosecutors contend that McDermott also hired Luna in 1983 to break the arm or leg of a private-duty nurse whose job she wanted so that the nurse would be unable to work.

Luna, 36, the key witness against McDermott, pleaded guilty to murder with special circumstances after being promised that prosecutors would not seek the death penalty. His sentence is pending.

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Mader alleged that after the March 21 attempt on Eldridge’s life--which McDermott herself arranged--McDermott comforted Eldridge while secretly plotting to kill him.

Ingber and Carl Burkow, McDermott’s two court-appointed defense attorneys, argued that police did a shoddy investigation and attacked the credibility of Luna.


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