A reputed gang member with a long criminal history was sentenced to death Friday for killing a Santa Ana church elder as the victim prayed for mercy in a telephone booth a few feet from where his wife looked on in horror.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Jean Matusinka ordered Tracy Lavelle Carter, 22, of Los Angeles, to die in the gas chamber for the first-degree murder of David Eugene Thompson, an elder of the Greater Zion Apostolic Church in Santa Ana.
"The defendant has engaged in a pattern of violent conduct that indicates a serious danger to society," Matusinka said. "You should suffer the death penalty within the vaults of San Quentin."
Carter, wearing leg irons, white basketball sneakers and a blue jail jumpsuit, removed his glasses and began to sob at the defense table as Matusinka spoke. Earlier, he had whispered to his relatives in the audience and rocked back and forth in his chair.
"I love you all," he yelled to his family as sheriff's deputies led him away after sentencing.
On Nov. 2, a jury convicted Carter on two counts of first-degree murder stemming from the shooting deaths of Thompson, 27, of Tustin, and Leopoldo Salgado, 48, of Los Angeles, on April 9, 1987. Both were robbed and killed within 90 minutes of each other in South-Central Los Angeles during an attempt by Carter and two other young men to obtain money for beer and cigarettes.
Three weeks later, the jury recommended that Carter be put to death for Thompson's death and receive life in prison without the possibility of parole for the slaying of Salgado. Judge Matusinka formally imposed those sentences during Friday's hearing.
"He deserved it," said Catherine Thompson, who added that she has had two strokes following the death of her son, David. "If it had been anything less I would have been devastated. My son was a fabulous man. He was taken away. . . . He who liveth by the sword shall die by the sword. All I want is justice."
Thompson was killed in a service station telephone booth at Slauson Avenue and Broadway, where he had gone to call for help after a bus from his church broke down during an outing. As his wife, Namora, waited in their car, three men accosted them and took $10 from her purse.
Court testimony showed that Carter then turned on Thompson, whose hands were pressed together in prayer. "Hallelujah, hallelujah," Thompson said before he was fatally shot in the head.
Police said the men took Thompson's 1986 Hyundai and drove to a liquor store where they bought cigarettes and beer. They returned to the store later and shot Salgado when and a friend refused to give them money.
"The death penalty was justified," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Anne Ingalls, the prosecutor. "He put a gun to a good man's head who was praying for mercy and he killed him."
Before sentencing, defense attorney Susan Wolk argued that Carter should either receive a new trial or a reduced sentence of life in prison because the jury recommended two different punishments in November. Matusinka rejected the argument without comment.
"I don't think it was fair at all," said Carter's mother, Audry. "Tracy is my only son. Tracy is basically a good person. He was home that night, and he should have stayed home. How can you spend your life on death row at 22--30 years waiting to die."
Matusinka had the power to reject the jury's recommendation of the death penalty, but she imposed the sentence, citing the two killings and Carter's lengthy criminal history. Those facts, she said, outweighed defense arguments in favor of a life sentence--Carter's age and expression of remorse for the killings.
Court and prison records show that Carter, who is a member of the 74 Hoover Crips street gang, has been in continuous trouble with the law since his first robbery and malicious mischief convictions at age 11. Except for 14 months of freedom, Carter has been serving time in Los Angeles County Jail and the California Youth Authority for the last seven years.
"It's hard to accept. My client is a human being," said Anthony Alexander, Carter's other defense lawyer. "I definitely feel he feels remorse for the entire situation. I think he understands this is a tragedy for everyone."
Carter is the last of three people to be convicted and sentenced in the slayings. Last year, Andre Moore, 20, an accomplice, was sentenced to 32 years to life in prison, while Todd Lavera, 26, received 58 years to life in prison.