Advertisement

Jury Votes Death for Mother’s Day Killer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nearly three years after Paul Carasi hacked his mother and the mother of his child to death in a Universal CityWalk parking lot, a jury on Monday recommended he should die for his crimes.

His lover, Donna Lee, was spared the same fate Monday by two holdout jurors who, unable to decide how large a role she played in the Mother’s Day slayings, could not vote for death and forced a hung jury.

Santa Monica Superior Court Judge Leslie Light declared a mistrial on Lee’s penalty, and prosecutors said they have yet to decide whether to retry her and seek death or accept the sentence of life without parole guaranteed by her conviction on the murder charges.

“I spent many, many, many hours thinking about this, and I could not get to the death penalty for her,” said juror Sarah Rudd, her eyes watering. “The evidence did not appear to be as clear as it did with Mr. Carasi.”

Advertisement

Deputy Dist. Attys. John Gilligan and Phil Stirling had called both defendants “co-equals and co-participants before, during and after the murders,” which were committed in front of Carasi’s son, Michael, then 2.

The slayings were the subject of a vigil by the National Organization for Women, which called them a brutal symbol of the severity of violence against women in the United States.

Carasi maintained his composure until the verdicts were read. As the judge polled jurors, Carasi wept uncontrollably. Carasi and Lee have been held without bail since shortly after the slayings.

Covered with blood, Carasi called police to the Universal CityWalk parking garage May 14, 1995, claiming he, his mother and his ex-girlfriend had been attacked by robbers. Carasi said he had been held down as the women were slain.

Advertisement

Moments later, Lee used a call box nearby on the Hollywood Freeway to contact authorities. She, too, claimed to have been attacked by robbers, her abdomen slit open to expose her intestines.

Injured during the knife attack in the parking lot, she had locked her keys in her car while disposing of the murder weapon and other bloody evidence over the highway embankment.

Carasi and Lee had decided to kill his ex-girlfriend, Sonia Salinas, 29, after she attached his wages for child support for Michael, now 5, prosecutors argued. They killed 61-year-old Doris Carasi, Paul Carasi’s mother, because she sided with Salinas.

“What’s striking to me is that these are middle-class people from the Valley who had jobs and had some success in their jobs,” said Gilligan, the lead prosecutor in the case. “These were people who had choices and whose deeds were so dark.”

Advertisement

Whether the district attorney’s office will make a second try at a death penalty in Lee’s case will depend on his superiors and the wishes of the dead women’s relatives, Gilligan said. Because the case is based on circumstantial evidence, a retrial would be long and complicated, he said.

For Tony Salinas, Sonia Salinas’ father, the issue is clear.

“For us, they are both just as guilty,” he said.

“Maybe they were thinking about her as a mother and a woman,” he said. “But [Lee] didn’t think of that before the killings. All she thought about was her own benefit.”

Advertisement

*

Jurors said Lee’s gender, while discussed early in the deliberations, was not a deciding factor.

“That was an issue in the beginning” for the male holdout juror, forewoman Heather Rangel said. “But we talked that one out.”

Rudd, the other holdout, said she had wondered whether Lee’s gender made the decision harder for her, but she said she tried to imagine Lee as a man and still felt a death verdict was inappropriate.

Advertisement

Rudd also said she believed Lee was a battered woman, as her defense lawyer had contended in his plea to save her life, and that an abusive past was one of the reasons the juror couldn’t vote to execute her.

Laurie Levenson, associate dean at Loyola Law School, said that although the jurors may not have openly decided they couldn’t recommend death for Lee because of her gender, it likely still had an impact.

“The question is, when it’s a woman, do they look a little harder for things in her favor? Statistically, we know they do,” Levenson said. “I think frankly it’s because it doesn’t fit our image of a woman. We don’t see women as easily in the role of being violent or hostile or evil.”

Levenson said that although women commit 15% of murders, fewer than 1% face execution.

Advertisement

Since the death penalty was reinstated in California in the 1980s, eight women have been put on death row. None has been executed.

However the issue of gender may have weighed on two jurors, the other 10 still voted for death.

Carasi’s defense lawyer declined comment, and Lee’s lawyer left quickly after the hearing and could not be reached later.

During the penalty phase, Deputy Public Defender Ralph Courtney had argued that Carasi was not a good candidate for death.

Advertisement

“The death penalty should be reserved for the worst possible people who qualify. These are supposed to be rabid killers, career criminals. People who never did anything good in their life,” Courtney said. “That is not Paul Carasi.”

Carasi will be sentenced later this month.


Advertisement
Advertisement