Son Gets 21 Years to Life in Slaying : Crime: A Van Nuys man convicted of beating his 71-year-old father to death insists the act was self-defense.


A Van Nuys man convicted of killing his 71-year-old father during a beating with body-building weights was sentenced Friday to 21 years to life in prison.

Ross Harvey De Spenza, 42, who acted as his own attorney and told jurors during his trial that he was the son of God, was sentenced by Van Nuys Superior Court Judge James M. Coleman for second-degree murder in the death of his father, also named Ross De Spenza.

Before the sentencing, De Spenza’s sister, Laurie Wood of Monterey, tearfully asked the judge to keep her brother in prison forever. Wood likened her brother to a violent beast.

“My brother did a terrible thing that can never be undone or forgiven,” Wood said. “An animal is an animal. You cannot tame a wild, blood-thirsty animal. If let out, he will kill again.”


De Spenza showed no reaction to his sister’s comments or the sentence.

He was convicted last month of killing his father April 14, 1990, when the older man came to De Spenza’s house to pick him up for a family outing. The older man was struck several times with five-pound plates from a weight set and then De Spenza sat on his father’s chest, asphyxiating him.

During his trial, De Spenza said he killed his father in self-defense, maintaining that the older man was ill and suicidal and had come at him with a knife. De Spenza also made odd political and religious statements, which Deputy Dist. Atty. Teri Hutchison called an attempt to make jurors question his sanity, which was not an issue in the trial.

De Spenza made no statement before his sentencing Friday, but presented Coleman with a handwritten, 20-page “Declaration of Innocence” renewing his claims that he killed his father in self-defense.


In court, he also asked Coleman to reduce the murder conviction to manslaughter and asked for a new trial, stating poor mental health made him unable to act properly as his own attorney. His co-counsel during the sentencing, Aaron H. Stovitz, said De Spenza has been manic-depressive for 20 years.

But Coleman rejected both requests and De Spenza’s contention that he acted in self-defense.

“The whole defense is so contrived,” Coleman said. “That a 71-year-old man would suddenly attack someone he is about to take on a family outing is beyond belief.”