John Joseph Famalaro, one of Orange County’s most notorious murderers, was sentenced to death Friday by a Superior Court judge who spoke of the terror that his victim, Denise Huber, must have felt during the final moments of her life.
“Just imagine what was going through her mind,” Judge John J. Ryan said, as he described how the 23-year-old woman was abducted when her car broke down on the Corona del Mar Freeway, then taken to a Laguna Hills warehouse, where she was sexually assaulted and bludgeoned to death.
Famalaro, 40, will be transferred from the Orange County Jail to San Quentin State Prison within 10 days. He showed no emotion as the judge imposed the sentence and did not look at Huber’s family members when they spoke in court.
“I cannot adequately describe the pain, agony and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that I experienced,” the victim’s mother, Ione Huber, told the judge. "[It] turned into days, then turned into months, then turned into years.”
“I miss her more than words can describe. My heart aches,” she added.
The judge spoke of the “extraordinary” impact the crime had on the victim’s parents, who spearheaded a nationwide search for their daughter after she disappeared on her way home from a rock concert June 3, 1991.
Denise Huber was missing three years before her nude, handcuffed and beaten body was discovered in July 1994 inside a home freezer that Famalaro kept running in an overdue rental truck parked outside his Arizona home.
This June, a jury recommended that Famalaro be sentenced to death. They had already convicted the former painting contractor of first-degree murder, kidnapping and sodomy. Two jurors and one alternate juror were in the courtroom for the formal sentencing.
“I felt like I wanted to maintain some kind of contact, and I wanted to see the judge agree with our verdict,” said juror David Reyno. “I didn’t realize how much this all affected me until the case was over. Every time I drive on the [Corona del Mar] Freeway, I think about what happened to her that night and about what she went through.”
Ryan denied a motion by Famalaro’s lawyers for a new trial. The judge said he believed that the jury was correct in convicting the defendant of first-degree murder, as well as the special circumstances of sodomy and kidnapping that made him eligible for the death penalty. “The evidence as to Mr. Famalaro’s guilt was just overwhelming,” he said.
Deputy Public Defender Leonard Gumlia and co-defense lawyer Denise Gragg said the sentence was no surprise, but they are deeply disappointed their client faces execution.
“When I left my children this morning, I said, ‘I’m going to go watch the government order the death of somebody else.’ And it was probably the most embarrassing, humiliating moment I’ve ever had to spend with my children,” Gragg said.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Evans said: “In that one single act, this defendant took away so much from that family and our world. It will never end for a lot of people involved in this case.”
He said that while it is “never pleasant” to watch someone be sentenced to death, he believes that “this is the only just conclusion.”