Jury Recommends Death Penalty for Murder of Estonian Activist : Courts: A Soviet army deserter who defected to the United States had been convicted of killing the woman who sheltered him.


After nine days of deliberations, jurors in San Fernando Superior Courton on Monday recommended that a Soviet army deserter die in the gas chamber for killing the Estonian activist who gave him shelter in her North Hollywood home.

Tauno Waidla, 23, showed no emotion as the court clerk read the jury’s decision.

The same jury last month convicted Waidla on six felony counts stemming from the murder of Viivi Piirisild, 52, a popular member of the Los Angeles Estonian immigrant community who was beaten and stabbed to death in the entryway of her home in July, 1988.

Waidla, who was hailed as a hero after his defection to the United States in 1987, lived in the Piirisild home for nearly a year, performing odd jobs in exchange for room and board. Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven Ipsen argued during the trial that Waidla killed Piirisild because she had kicked him out and refused to support him any longer.


Because Waidla was convicted of killing Piirisild while burglarizing her house, jurors had only two choices in sentencing: life in prison without possibility of parole, or death. It is up to San Fernando Superior Court Judge Howard J. Schwab, who will sentence Waidla on Feb. 13, to decide whether to impose the death penalty.

Jurors interviewed outside the courtroom said they agonized over the decision, which they eventually based on a number of factors--among them, Waidla’s apparent lack of emotion during the trial and the methodical way in which he carried out the murder. Last week, jurors announced they were deadlocked, but Schwab ordered them to continue deliberating.

Juror Joyce Gorstein said she caused the deadlock because she refused to vote for the death sentence until she had reviewed the evidence to make sure the penalty was appropriate. “I had to be sure,” she said, adding that she stayed awake nights pondering her decision.

“He deserved the death penalty,” said Gorstein, 53, of Chatsworth. “He really did.”


Ipsen applauded the jury’s decision, saying “Our community cannot ask for more from its citizens.”

Piirisild’s husband, Abo, said he was relieved the trial was over, but declined to comment further.

Waidla’s attorney, Martin R. Gladstein, said Waidla should not be given the death penalty because it is generally reserved for especially horrible crimes or defendants with a violent history.

Waidla and Peter Sakarias, 23, were received with open arms by the tightknit Estonian communities in Los Angeles and New York after their arrival in the United States. But the men outstayed their welcome, living off the generosity of their countrymen and threatening their former hosts when support was cut off, according to members of the Estonian community.

Investigators believe the two men broke into the Piirisild house in search of food and money, but Piirisild surprised them when she returned home from a doctor’s appointment. Waidla attacked her with a hatchet and Sakarias allegedly stabbed her.

Prosecutors allege that the two men pawned her jewelry and used her credit cards to charge two airline tickets to New York. They were arrested about a month after the killing.

Sakarias, who has murder charges pending against him, was judged mentally incompetent to stand trial and sent to Atascadero State Hospital.