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Man Who Killed TV Actress Gets Life Without Parole : Crime: Parents of Rebecca Schaeffer express satisfaction with the ruling. Slayer Robert John Bardo says: ‘I do realize the magnitude of what I have done.’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An obsessed fan was sentenced Friday to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for the murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer in the doorway of her Fairfax district apartment two years ago.

“Thank God it’s over,” the victim’s mother, Danna Schaeffer, whispered through her tears after the sentencing of Robert John Bardo. “He’ll be in there for the rest of his life. It’s over.”

“I’m pleased with the verdict,” said Schaeffer’s father, Benson Schaeffer. “Justice is done.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dino Fuglioni, who found Bardo guilty of first-degree murder last October at the conclusion of a five-week, non-jury trial, granted the 21-year-old defendant’s request to speak Friday before the sentence was pronounced.

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“I do realize the magnitude of what I have done,” Bardo said during a rambling, one-minute, address to the judge. “I do realize that what I did was irrevocably wrong. If you believe it is just and right to send me to prison for life, then I believe it is just and right.”

Fuglioni recommended that the defendant, who was described by his attorney as a man suffering from a lifetime of serious emotional problems, begin serving his sentence at the state prison for the criminally insane at Vacaville.

In addition to finding Bardo guilty of first-degree murder, Fuglioni had found Bardo guilty of the special circumstance of lying in wait to kill the actress, which required the sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole. The death penalty had been ruled out in the case when Bardo waived his right to a jury trial.

There was testimony during the trial by a defense psychiatrist, who said Bardo is a schizophrenic whose illness led him to shoot the actress when she answered her door on July 18, 1989.

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But Fuglioni said the evidence showed that Bardo had planned the killing and may have ambushed Schaeffer after she answered her doorbell.

Testimony during the trial indicated that Bardo, then 19 and a resident of Tucson, Ariz., had been obsessed with the co-star of the television sitcom “My Sister Sam” for two years, sending her letters and trying to visit her. He finally obtained her address through a private detective, who got the information from the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

The murder led to restrictions on public access to DMV records, but critics contend the new rules are full of loopholes.

Friday’s court session was largely devoted to moving testimony from Schaeffer’s mother, father, grandparents and uncles, who spoke mostly of the 21-year-old woman from Oregon who died, rather than the man who killed her and the penalty he should receive.

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Through their testimony, Bardo sat silently at the defense table, hunched forward in his blue County Jail jumpsuit, never looking at the people who spoke.

“I’m Rebecca’s mother,” Danna Schaeffer said softly, choking back her grief. “I’ve always been immensely proud of that . . . I don’t think the world can afford to lose a person like this. I certainly can’t.

“I wish I could say I believe in a literal heaven,” the mother added. “That way, if people asked me, I could still say, ‘Yes, I have a beautiful daughter.’ ”

Benson opened his remarks by telling the judge that he still thinks of the couple’s only child “every day.

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“The last time I spoke to her was the Thursday before she was killed,” the father said. “Our last words were, ‘I love you.’ ”

The only wrath against Bardo was expressed by the dead woman’s uncles, David Wilner and Morton Schaeffer. “Rebecca was irreplaceable,” a sobbing Wilner told the judge. “I hate the criminal who killed her.”

Bardo’s defense attorney, Deputy Public Defender Stephen Galindo, argued unsuccessfully that “it would not be inappropriate for the court to provide leniency” and reduce the sentence, given Bardo’s history of mental disorder “that he suffered through no fault of his own.” Galindo said Bardo is also a “victim.”

But Fuglioni seemed more impressed by the arguments of the prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark, who argued that after “years of fantasizing about violence,” Bardo committed a murder that was the result of “carefully controlled, methodical planning.”

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Although Schaeffer’s death led to new restrictions on public access to DMV records, critics contend that, in reality, there is little guarantee that home addresses on driver’s licenses and car registrations will remain secret.

Banks, insurance companies, car dealers, wrecking yards and process servers were exempted from the rules. The critics say virtually anyone can register as a process server for less than $100--the cost of bond and a registration fee.


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