A Los Angeles Superior Court judge sentenced two men to death in separate cases on Tuesday, one for the torture-murder of a 42-year-old Altadena woman and the other for the rape-murder of an 11-year-old girl in Compton.
The woman was kidnaped and robbed before David Earl Williams shot her in the hand, locked her in the trunk of her car, doused the vehicle with gasoline and burned her to death, the district attorney's office said.
The girl was gagged, raped and then shot to death by defendant Alphonso Howard before he dumped her body in a nearby garage, according to prosecutors.
Berating Williams for treating his victim with "a high degree of cruelty, callousness and viciousness" and accusing Howard of attacking the young girl "in a savage, bloody frenzy," Judge J. D. Smith followed the recommendations of the juries in handing down the death penalties Tuesday.
The death sentences for Williams and Howard were the first imposed in the downtown criminal courts building since 1989, when Richard Ramirez was ordered to die in the San Quentin gas chamber for his infamous "Night Stalker" multiple murders.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Donna Wells said Joanne Lacey, a post office supervisor, was on her way to do some shopping on the night of March 20, 1989, when Williams, then 27, deliberately rammed her car at an intersection in Pasadena.
Kidnaping Lacey at gunpoint, Williams took her jewelry and forced her to drive to her bank on California Boulevard, where he made her withdraw $200 from an automated teller machine, Wells said. Wanting more money, Williams then had Lacey call a woman friend and tell the friend that she had been in an accident and needed $500 in cash, the prosecutor said.
"The friend brought the money and handed it to (Lacey), who was sitting in the passenger seat," Wells said. "The friend never saw Williams' face."
Wells said that Williams, who was behind the wheel of the car, then drove his victim to a quiet spot on Rosemont Avenue, near the Rose Bowl.
"Even though she complied with everything he asked her to do, he chose a particularly horrible way to kill her," Wells said.
The prosecutor said Williams ordered Lacey into the trunk of the car and--apparently when she hesitated--shot her in the hand. After the wounded woman climbed into the trunk, Williams sloshed gasoline over the vehicle, set it on fire and fled, Wells said.
"He apparently wanted to get rid of the fingerprints and his only witness," Wells said.
Firemen arriving a few minutes later found Lacey's body in the trunk. An autopsy showed she had died of burns and smoke inhalation.
A few days later, Williams bragged to friends about what he had done, and one of them eventually implicated him, Wells said. Items stolen from Lacey during the crime were later found to have been in Williams' possession.
On Sept. 10, a jury convicted Williams of first-degree murder. Two weeks later, the jury recommended the death penalty.
"This was a cold, vicious murder," Judge Smith told the stone-faced defendant on Tuesday. "There is absolutely no question as to guilt."
"I feel relieved," the victim's husband, Napoleon Lacey, said after the sentence was handed down. "He got what he deserved."
Three hours earlier, Smith had sentenced Howard, 25, to die for the rape and murder of Wendy Bustamante on April 2, 1988.
Deputy Dist Atty. Pamela Frohreich said that Howard, whose younger sister was a friend of Wendy's at George Washington Elementary School, lured Wendy into his bedroom, stuffed a paper bag into her mouth to gag her, removed her clothes and raped her.
"He put her clothes back on her," Frohreich said. "Then he put a handgun to her chest and shot her straight through the heart."
Frohreich called the attack "a brutal crime against a vulnerable and innocent child."