An Orange County Superior Court judge on Friday reluctantly accepted the jury's recommendation that James Gregory Marlow be sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a Huntington Beach woman.
Judge Donald McCartin said he thought Marlow had changed since he tortured and strangled the 19-year-old woman, but the circumstances of the "hideous" crime gave him "no choice" but to impose the death sentence.
"This has been an extremely difficult case for me," McCartin said. "It doesn't seem like the fellow sitting in front of me could have committed this crime."
The judge complimented Marlow on the way he handled himself during the trial and the "remarkably candid fashion" in which he pleaded guilty to the Nov. 12, 1986, murder of Lynel Murray.
"I have no doubt that (Marlow) is sincere that he is remorseful," McCartin said.
Nonetheless, McCartin said, the jury's verdict last March in the death penalty phase of the trial "was proper." McCartin said he felt obligated to approve the sentence "as much as I would like to do otherwise."
Before McCartin's sentence Friday, Marlow, 35, and his former girlfriend, Cynthia Lynn Coffman, 30, had been sentenced to die for the Nov. 7, 1986, rape and murder of Corinna D. Novis, 20, of Redlands.
According to prosecutors, the couple hitched a ride with Novis from a Redlands mall and then took her to a San Bernardino residence where they had been staying. Novis was sexually molested, then taken in handcuffs to Fontana, where she was strangled and buried in a shallow grave.
Five days later, Marlow and Coffman robbed Murray at gunpoint at the dry-cleaning store where she worked. The couple then took her to a motel, sexually abused her and strangled her with a towel.
Marlow and Coffman were arrested a few days later in Big Bear. The couple were linked to the crimes when investigators found Novis' credit cards and other belongings in a Laguna Beach dumpster, along with papers identifying Marlow and Coffman.
Coffman has also been charged with murder in the Murray case and her trial is scheduled to begin next month. Both Coffman and Marlow have also been accused of killing a Kentucky man shortly before their Southland rampage.
McCartin blamed part of Marlow's murderous behavior on the volatile relationship he had with Coffman.
"The worst personality of Mr. Marlow came out" during the relationship, McCartin said. He added that when the two of them were together it was like pouring "gasoline on a fire."
McCartin also noted that Marlow's criminal tendencies were linked to terrible emotional and physical abuse while growing up. "It's a given that Marlow is a victim of abuse," he said.
Before his sentencing Friday, Marlow told the judge that he had "been involved in some evil things" in his life and has "nightmares every night" because of them.
" 'I'm sorry' is very inadequate," Marlow said as relatives of Murray's family sat in the courtroom. "For what it's worth, I really am sorry . . . sorry to God, sorry to society, sorry to the Murray family."
In a reference to death threats he has received from other inmates at the Orange County Jail, Marlow said: "I'll be lucky if I ever make it to the gas chamber."
Marlow's attorney, George A. Peters Jr., declined to discuss the threats, but a court official confirmed that at least one prison gang has put a contract on Marlow's life because of the nature of his crimes against women.
Within 10 days, Marlow will be transferred from the Orange County Jail to San Quentin where he will await execution.