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Man Gets 25 Years to Life in Killing of Girlfriend

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Timothy J. Velasco, who said he stabbed and strangled his girlfriend to stop her cycle of alcohol abuse, was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison Friday.

Addressing the sister of victim Ellen Cleary, a Thousand Oaks writer and artist, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Steven Z. Perren said: “I only hope this has a sense of closure for the family.”

The sentence is the only one allowed in first-degree murder cases where the death penalty is not sought. Velasco, 22, of Van Nuys will be eligible for parole consideration in about 18 years.

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Velasco, who attacked a news photographer during his trial last month, showed no emotion during the sentencing. When Perren asked whether he understood his right to appeal, Velasco refused to answer--a reaction the judge described as “mute and defiant.”

Perren rejected a request by Deputy Public Defender William McGuffey for a new trial. McGuffey argued that Perren had exhibited bias against the defendant during the trial last month, had erred by not declaring a mistrial after the attack on the photographer, and had erred by not allowing the jury to consider a verdict of voluntary manslaughter.

The latter point touched on the main issue of the trial: Was the slaying a cold-blooded, premeditated murder or did Velasco act in the heat of passion and with provocation from the victim?

The evidence, including a videotaped confession by the defendant, showed that he arrived at Cleary’s condominium last Oct. 4 and found her having sex with her doctor. Velasco calmly shook hands with the physician before the man left, then had lunch with Cleary and made love to her, according to the record.

Then, Velasco said in his taped confession, he decided to kill Cleary rather than see her slide back into her long-running pattern of alcoholism and self-neglect. He said he cut her on the neck with a kitchen knife but failed to find the jugular vein. He ignored her plea to call the 911 emergency line and instead strangled her until she was unconscious. Fearing she might still be alive, he covered her head tightly with trash bags.

He turned himself in to police a few hours later.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Carol J. Nelson persuaded the jury that the killing was premeditated. Perren said that if the jurors had believed McGuffey’s heat-of-passion argument, they could have found Velasco guilty of second-degree murder.

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“The jury rejected that, and I think properly so,” the judge said.

McGuffey said the same points he raised in seeking a new trial will form the basis for appealing the conviction to the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Velasco’s father, Jose, sat in the back row of the courtroom for the sentencing. During the trial, he and his wife Angie had sat outside in the hallway at their son’s request.

In a letter to Perren, the couple asked that their son be sent to a prison facility where he could get psychiatric treatment. Perren said he would leave that to prison officials.

Perren said he was struck by several letters he had received from Cleary’s friends and relatives. “These people are in intense pain, but they don’t seem to be angry,” Perren said. One letter came from the victim’s 83-year-old mother, who said her remaining years will be filled with sorrow.

Another letter, from Cleary’s cousin Eliza Moorman, took issue with Velasco’s claim that he killed Cleary to save her.

“Emily Dickinson might have been, to Timothy’s mind, too troubled to live. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, too fragile,” Moorman told the judge.

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“The future is robbed of what Ellen might have given it.”

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