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Carson Man Found Guilty of Murder of Pregnant Neighbor : Crime: Anthony Herrera must be sentenced to life without parole as the jury finds special circumstance in the slaying during attempted rape.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Carson resident Anthony Herrera was found guilty Wednesday of first-degree murder during an attempted rape in the savage knife slaying of his pregnant next-door neighbor, Lisa Marie Gonzales.

Gonzales, 20, died April 24, 1989, after being stabbed and slashed 42 times.

Herrera sat impassively through the reading of the verdicts in Compton Superior Court and left the courtroom without uttering a word.

Sentencing is set for June 27. Herrera must be sentenced to life in prison without parole, having been found guilty of first-degree murder plus the special circumstance that the slaying occurred during an attempted rape. He also faces a possible consecutive sentence of 15 years to life for the death of the fetus.

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Though Herrera could have faced execution for first-degree murder with a special circumstance, the district attorney’s office decided before the trial not to seek the death penalty.

After the first verdict--the first-degree murder conviction--was announced, two dozen family members and friends of the victim clapped and cheered briefly before Compton Superior Court Judge Madge S. Watai quieted the court.

Shaking with emotion, Gonzales’ mother and sister then cried silently and held each other through the reading of the remaining three verdicts. Gonzales’ former fiance, Michael Corcoran, gripped the hands of friends, his face showing a mixture of elation, relief and rage.

“I’m as happy as I can be, but it isn’t good enough,” said Corcoran a few minutes later.

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“He should be tortured and killed. . . . He’s going to be alive and breathing, and he robbed Lisa and my baby of that.”

Steve Sowders, head deputy district attorney in Compton, said the decision not to seek a death penalty was “a close call.” Herrera had no previous record of violent crime, Sowders pointed out, and there was no evidence that he knew Gonzales was pregnant or that the attack was planned.

In addition, Deputy Dist. Atty. Pam Frohreich, who tried the case, said Herrera was intoxicated that night. “It’s hard to send a man to death when he was not himself,” she said.

Under California law, the verdict of first-degree murder with a special circumstance means that Herrera must receive a life sentence without parole if the prosecution does not seek a death penalty.

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Of the verdict, Joyce Dickman, Gonzales’ mother, said: “We went to the court of justice and justice was done. . . . At least he won’t be on the street to do this to someone else.”

Herrera’s mother left the courtroom without comment.

Corcoran, 22, a self-employed construction worker from San Pedro, said he and Gonzales had planned to marry on the weekend after she was killed. They picked that date because it would have been the fifth anniversary of the beginning of their romance at South High School in Torrance.

The prosecution’s case was that Herrera, a 29-year-old construction worker who had lived next door to Gonzales and Corcoran for three years, killed her after she rebuffed his advances.

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On the night of the murder, Herrera arrived at his house in the 21500 block of Water Street after hours of softball and drunken carousing to find that Corcoran’s pickup was not parked in front of Gonzales’ home.

The prosecution said that Gonzales let Herrera into the house for a friendly visit and that he became violent after she rejected him. Gonzales, a former model, was stabbed in the face more than 30 times and hit on the head. She was killed by slashes across her throat, according to testimony.

The prosecutor said teeth marks matching Herrera’s were found on Gonzales’ breast, while investigators testified that footprints in Gonzales’ blood were made by tennis shoes like the ones Herrera wore and that no other footprints were found.

The defense conceded that Herrera had gone to Gonzales’ house, but asserted that he went only after his mother told him that she had heard a commotion next door. He testified that he discovered the body and became bloodied while checking to see if his neighbor was alive. He testified that he did not call police because he had been smoking cocaine and feared that he would be arrested.

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Public Defender Ary DeGroot said his client was hurt by expert testimony that established that the type of blood left by the sink--which matched Herrera’s--is found in only one in 1,000 people.

Herrera testified that he may have left blood by the sink but had cut his palm earlier in the evening as he slid into second base during a softball game. But Frohreich said this version was not credible because the slide occurred nine hours before the murder and no one saw his palm bleeding.

DeGroot said the verdict would be appealed.

Jury foreman Monique LaTour, a Compton resident, said the jury, which began deliberations Tuesday morning, sifted evidence for a full day before reaching a consensus that Herrera was guilty of murder during an attempted rape.

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“Nobody wants to send anyone to jail,” she said. “but we had to work with what we were given.”


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