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Jury Urges Death for Soviet Deserter Who Killed Activist

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After nine days of intense deliberations, jurors 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 expression as the clerk read the jury’s decision in San Fernando Superior Court.

The jury last month convicted Waidla of 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 house in July, 1988.

Waidla, who was hailed as a hero after his defection to the United States, lived in the Piirisild house 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 refused to support him any longer.

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Because Waidla killed Piirisild while burglarizing her house, jurors had only two choices in sentencing: death or life in prison without possibility of parole. It is up to Judge Howard J. Schwab, who will pass sentence Feb. 13, to decide whether to impose the recommended 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 he carried out the murder. Last week, jurors announced that they were deadlocked, but Schwab ordered them to continue deliberating.

Juror Joyce Gorstein said she caused the deadlock because she refused to vote for execution until she had reviewed the evidence to make sure that the sentence 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.”

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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 history of violence.

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

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

Waidla and Peter Sakarias, 23, were received with open arms by the tight-knit Estonian communities in Los Angeles and New York after their arrival in the United States in 1987. 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 that 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 knifed 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, against whom murder charges are pending, was judged mentally incompetent to stand trial and sent to Atascadero State Hospital.


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