Jurors Find Man Guilty in Killing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After 1 1/2 days of deliberations, a San Fernando Superior Court jury Monday found a Van Nuys man guilty of burning his ex-girlfriend alive, a first-degree murder conviction that could lead to the death penalty.

Donald Brooks Jr., 35, was a fugitive for months after the burned body of 32-year-old Lisa Kerr was found March 24, 1999, in the back seat of her car, which she had stopped along the Hollywood Freeway in Arleta.

The onetime plumber was arrested in Colorado Springs four months later after police received several tips on his whereabouts from viewers of a true-crime television program.

When the verdict was read in the packed courtroom of Judge Warren G. Greene, the victim's family and friends hugged and several burst into tears.

"I feel that justice has been served. I really do," said Kerr's grandmother, Helen Sorena, wiping her eyes.

The jury of six women and six men also found Brooks guilty of stalking Kerr, with whom he had a yearlong affair when she was estranged from her husband. After the Winnetka woman tried to end their relationship, Brooks began harassing and stalking her, according to trial testimony from those who knew her.

"She tried to get a restraining order but she backed out of it," said her longtime friend, Cheryl Zornes of Canoga Park.

Kerr's husband, Casey Kerr, said he and his wife were seeing a marriage counselor and in the midst of reconciling, which angered Brooks.

"He caught wind that she was moving back in, and he killed her," said Kerr, who is now raising their 9-year-old son alone.

During the three-week trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. Scott Gordon presented testimony that Brooks tortured and killed Kerr, who had worked at a beauty supply store. A coroner's employee testified that Kerr died from her burn injuries and smoke inhalation.

Defense attorney Ed Murphy unsuccessfully argued that the crime had been committed in the heat of passion.

Brooks, who did not testify, will now face the same jury in the penalty phase of his trial, scheduled to begin Thursday. The jury will decide whether he should be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"[Brooks] took her from us, but God has an angel back," Zornes said. "She was beautiful in every aspect of the word--in her heart, in her face."

Kerr's husband said he believes Brooks deserves to die a painful death.

"I would as soon have them pour a gallon of gasoline on him and set him on fire," he said. "That's what he did to her."

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