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Killer’s Death Brings Sorrowful Saga to a Close

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Evil is never pure. So when Roland Norman Comtois died on Death Row, he was buried quietly by his family, who remembered him not as the child killer and drug addict he surely was, but as a loving father and brother.

The rest of the world will remember Comtois, if at all, as the cruel drifter who abducted two Chatsworth teen-agers back in 1987, killing one and leaving her friend for dead in an abandoned station wagon.

Comtois was sentenced to die in the gas chamber for the crimes, but died instead in a Marin County hospital bed on May 6 from an infection following surgeries for chronic heart and bowel problems. He was 65.

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“I am kind of relieved that he won’t be back out on the streets,” said Allen Masuhara, father of Wendy Masuhara, who was 14 when Comtois killed her with a bullet in the back of the head. “I guess I felt a kind of closure.”

Wendy Masuhara and a 13-year-old friend were walking down a Chatsworth street on Sept. 19, 1987, when Comtois and a female accomplice lured them into his mobile home, claiming engine trouble. Holding them at gunpoint, Comtois bound and gagged the two girls.

He sexually assaulted the 13-year-old and then injected her with what he said was a syringe full of cocaine. He then drove the girls to a remote part of Woolsey Canyon and put them in a broken-down station wagon.

With the two friends in the front seat, Comtois slipped in behind them and shot Masuhara in the back of the head. She fell dead into her friend’s lap. But just as Comtois fired on the 13-year-old, she turned her head slightly and raised her hand.

The move saved her life: the bullet was deflected off her hand and lodged in her neck. Left for dead, the dazed and bleeding girl eventually staggered to the road and was spotted by a passing motorist.

She testified against Comtois at his 1990 trial.

His accomplice, Marsha Lynn Ramos, was sentenced to life in prison. Comtois was condemned to death.

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But no one associated with the trial expected the sentence to be carried out. Comtois had lived a hard life that included drugs. And he had been shot by police as he tried to escape arrest.

During his trial, Comtois, a man who looked like a down-and-out Santa Claus with a voice like breaking glass, hobbled in and out of the courtroom. In prison, he was plagued with health problems.

“He saved the taxpayers a lot of money,” said retired Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Harold Lynn, who prosecuted the case. “He spent a lifetime abusing himself with cocaine and other drugs. Longevity is not in the future for that sort of person.”

James Gregory, who defended Comtois and remained in contact with him at San Quentin, said the man he fondly called “Ray” was a “very old 65 when he died.”

“To this day I feel sorry for the man,” said Gregory, who attended Comtois’ small family funeral. “I found some good in him. He was very sorry for what happened. . . . That man was very dear to me, as funny as that may sound.”

Just as evil is never pure, tragedy is rarely absolute.

Struggling to deal with the loss of a daughter, the Masuharas established a scholarship fund at Chatsworth High School--which Wendy would have attended had she lived.

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Four girls have won the scholarship since it was established and some of them occasionally write to the Masuharas about what they are doing in college.

“We sort of live through the successes of these girls,” Allen Masuhara said. “We can’t bring her back, but at least we can do something. My memories of my daughter will always be with me.”

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