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Hubers Leave Famalaro Jurors in Tears

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Calling her “Daddy’s little girl,” an emotional Dennis Huber testified Thursday about his daughter Denise, saying that when he learned of her death after she had been missing for three years, “all hope went out.”

“There was absolutely no hope,” the murder victim’s father told the jury that will decide whether his daughter’s killer should receive the death penalty. “This was someone that I loved so much. She was Daddy’s little girl. Daddy’s little girl was never going to come home.”

The victim’s parents were the last witnesses of the day Thursday, during an emotionally wrenching afternoon of testimony as the penalty phase of John J. Famalaro’s murder trial began in Orange County Superior Court.

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Testifying prior to her husband, Ione Huber held up a large color photo from their daughter’s college graduation for the jury to see--a contrast to the gruesome autopsy photos of the victim they had viewed last week.

“I want to show you a picture of the real Denise,” the mother said. “This is my daughter with her smile and her sense of humor. She brought so much joy to our lives.”

Added the mother: “When she died, so many of my dreams for her died. She had dreams of her own too.”

Those dreams, the mother testified, were to get married, have a career and have a family. “She was never able to do those things.” The parents’ words brought tears to the eyes of several jurors, and many people in the audience were openly crying, including a police detective who investigated the case. Their testimony even appeared to affect Famalaro, whose attorney said he was fighting back tears.

The 39-year-old former house painter was quickly convicted last week of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering Huber, 23, who disappeared June 3, 1991, while on her way home from a rock concert. Famalaro kept the victim’s body stored in a freezer for three years as her parents and others conducted a nationwide search to find out what happened to her. Jurors must now decide whether Famalaro should receive the death penalty for his crimes.

The Hubers made several mentions of the three years they spent not knowing their daughter’s fate. They said they didn’t know whether to pack up her belongings or sell her car. They never had a Christmas tree during the years of uncertainty, they said.

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“You couldn’t even get your breath,” Dennis Huber said. “I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t think of anything but Denise.”

Prior to the parents’ testimony--by far the most moving in the three-week trial--attorneys for the prosecution and the defense gave opening statements which offered contradictory pictures of Famalaro’s life.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Evans, speaking in a quiet and relaxed manner, told the jury about the “dark side” of a man with a history of bizarre sexual violence against former girlfriends and whose final act of rage against Huber devastated her family forever.

Following Evans, Deputy Public Defender Leonard Gumlia asked the jury--which took five hours last week to convict Famalaro--to keep an open mind when hearing about a client who, he said, “truly wants to do good with his life but is too psychologically scarred to do so.”

Gumlia said brain scans show that his client has “extra activity” in his temporal lobe that is associated with the basic instincts of sex and violence, which he cannot control and does not understand. He said an “extremism element” in Famalaro’s Catholic upbringing also helped to shape him and his views.

Touching on one of the most bizarre aspects of the high-profile murder case, Gumlia said his client suffers from a hereditary “obsessive-compulsive disorder” which, he said, may explain why Famalaro kept Huber’s body stored inside a freezer for three years after he killed her.

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The freezer was discovered by authorities in July 1994, stored inside a stolen Ryder rental truck parked in the driveway of Famalaro’s Arizona home.

Gumlia rejected the prosecution’s notion that Huber’s body was some kind of a trophy. Famalaro was separated from the body for more than a year when he moved from Orange County to Arizona in 1992, and the freezer remained in a San Clemente storage facility, Gumlia noted. It was brought over in the Ryder truck in early 1994.

“It was never a trophy,” Gumlia said. “It was never a fond remembrance.”

Gumlia said Famalaro’s psychological descent began in the early 1980s when his pregnant girlfriend, referred to only as Ruth, split up with the defendant and put the baby up for adoption over his objections.

“He never recovered from that in a certain way,” Gumlia said.

The defense attorney said that in the weeks leading up to Huber’s murder, another woman had broken off with Famalaro, and he had contacted a suicide hotline.

“Rejection by women was something that badly scarred him,” Gumlia said. “This was the state he was in before Denise Huber was killed. He did not know if he could go on at that time.”

Two of Famalaro’s former girlfriends who were called to the stand Thursday by the prosecution said he was devastated when they broke off the relationships. Both spoke of him as secretive and described incidents in which the defendant violently handcuffed them against their will before they knew what was happening.

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Huber’s hands were handcuffed behind her back when her nude, frozen and bludgeoned body was discovered.

One woman, who dated Famalaro in the late 1980s and again in August 1991, described an episode in 1987 when Famalaro handcuffed her “in the blink of an eye” against a New York City hotel window and left her there for three hours.

“I went through every emotion there is,” she said.

She testified that after Famalaro released her, she went into a fetal position and was incapable of speaking. She also said she broke up with him after the trip.

Under cross-examination, the woman was presented by Gumlia with photos showing her handcuffed and engaging in what appeared to be consensual sexual activity with Famalaro on that trip. The woman said she had blocked out parts of the episode and had no recollection of what was in the photos.

The woman said she remained friends with Famalaro over the years, even after their second breakup. Except for the handcuffing incident, Famalaro was “caring and generous,” she said. Her sons had even helped Famalaro move the freezer on a few occasions, she said.

‘I actually stepped on top of the freezer,” she said. “I used it as a ladder.”

Another woman, who began dating Famalaro in 1989, described an incident in which she too was handcuffed after being thrown down on the bed of Famalaro’s home. A 10- to 15-minute struggle followed.

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“There was a look in his eyes I hadn’t seen before,” she said. “His eyes looked like he was enjoying what he was doing and I didn’t.”

The woman said that Famalaro called her a “bitch,” saying she brought the episode onto herself. She said Famalaro told her that she “obviously didn’t understand mature sex games.”

The woman said she broke up with Famalaro after the handcuffing incident but got back together with him about three months later.

She testified that she saw Famalaro about a week after Huber’s murder. She said she dropped off a birthday present at the Laguna Hills warehouse where he was living and where Huber was killed and said he appeared “the same as usual.” Prosecutor Evans rested his case Thursday after calling the two women and the Hubers to the stand. Famalaro’s attorneys will begin calling witnesses Monday in a penalty phase expected to last up to three weeks.

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