3rd Man Convicted of 1st-Degree Murder in ’96 Torture Case
After four days of emotional deliberations, a jury convicted a 20-year-old Hawthorne resident Wednesday of first-degree murder for helping two friends burn a man to death in the Ventura County back country in 1996.
Defendant Matthew Ormsby fidgeted in his chair and stared at the jury as the verdict was read.
In addition to murder, he was found guilty of kidnapping, but not torture. Jurors upheld an allegation that the murder was committed during a kidnapping, but rejected one that claimed it also involved the infliction of torture.
Afterward, jurors retreated to a back room where some broke into tears.
“It’s never easy to make these decisions,” foreman John Montemayor said. “It’s pretty emotional.”
The gruesome criminal case began three years ago with the prosecution of Spencer Brasure and Billy Davis, who were both convicted of murder and other charges.
According to court testimony, Brasure and Davis kidnapped Anthony Guest, 20, of Redondo Beach at gunpoint Sept. 7, 1996, and took him to a house in Lawndale, where he was tortured for several hours.
Brasure burned Guest’s face with a torch, stapled wood to his head and broke glass in his mouth. He also burned the man with a makeshift electrical device.
During the torture, Ormsby, who knew Brasure and Davis through a circle of drug users, arrived at the house.
According to court testimony, he joined in the attack by hitting and kicking Guest and later helped transport the victim to a campground in northern Ventura County where he was doused with gasoline and burned alive.
“I just shudder when I think about that--the pain that man must have gone through,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Bob Calvert, speaking after the verdicts were read.
“It was probably one of the most horrific cases I have ever been involved with as a prosecutor,” said Calvert, who prosecuted Brasure and Ormsby.
Brasure, now 30, was sentenced to death for his role in the killing. Davis, now 23, received life in prison without possibility of parole.
Ormsby faces life in prison without possibility of parole, although retired Judge Charles McGrath, who presided over the trial, could choose to reduce that sentence to 25 years to life because the defendant was 16 at the time of the murder.
A rarely invoked provision of state law allows judges to opt for the lesser sentence in cases involving juveniles convicted of first-degree murder. Defense attorney Alan Saltzman said he will push for such a reduction.
Initially, Ormsby was questioned as a witness in the murder investigation, but authorities became suspicious after he changed his story before a grand jury and later during Brasure’s trial.
Ormsby was arrested last year and prosecuted as an adult.
Before the trial, prosecutors sent an informant into the County Jail and Ormsby admitted his involvement in the killing. According to court testimony, Ormsby made a similar admission to a second informant.
During closing arguments last week, Calvert described Ormsby as a follower who willingly helped his friends carry out a horrific slaying.
But Saltzman told jurors there was no direct evidence, such as fingerprints or DNA test results, to link his client to the killing. He also challenged the informants’ credibility, saying their statements should be disregarded.
On Wednesday, Saltzman said he was pleased that the jurors had rejected the torture charge, saying there was no evidence that his client had participated in inflicting the kind of sadistic injuries that Brasure did.
But Saltzman said he was disappointed that on the murder count the jurors “did not find reasonable doubt where there was reasonable doubt.”
Sentencing is set for Jan. 23.