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Trial starts in series of assaults, slayings

Times Staff Writer

Two women ran out of the courtroom wailing Monday as images of victims’ battered faces, bound hands and rope-burned necks flashed on a giant screen during the first day of accused serial killer Ivan J. Hill’s murder trial.

Los Angeles County prosecutors also played voice recordings of Hill prodding police to catch him during his three-month string of killings.

“I did it again,” Hill said in a Jan. 12, 1994, call to the Pomona Police Department, reporting the location of the body of one his six victims. “What’s this, number five, number six? I forget, but she’s there.”

In minutes, Hill called back: “Y’all better catch me before I kill again.”

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Hill, 45, was not caught for 10 years, until DNA evidence linked him to the three-month string of strangulation rapes along the Pomona Freeway. The crimes occurred along the industrial corridor from the City of Industry to Ontario, near where Hill worked as a warehouseman.

He is charged with six counts of murder, with special circumstances of multiple murder and having been convicted in 1979 of being an accomplice in a previous slaying. He acknowledges killing the women, but is asking a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury to spare him the death penalty.

Hill’s attorney, Jennifer Friedman, told jurors Monday that her client was in a downward spiral of drug addiction at the time of the crimes, which she characterized as “compulsive” rather than carefully thought out.

“Without deliberation, it is not first-degree murder,” Friedman said.

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Prosecutors said Hill used rags and ropes to strangle and tie up victims, getting better with each killing -- clear evidence, they added, of premeditation and deliberation.

“You will see a progression,” Deputy Dist. Atty. John Monaghan told jurors in downtown Los Angeles.

According to Monaghan, Hill strangled his first victim, Betty Sue Harris, with his bare hands on Nov. 1, 1993. Four days later, Roxanne Brooks Bates was strangled with a cord or cloth tied around her neck, Monaghan said.

Hill’s third victim, Helen Hill, had her hands tied behind her back and her mouth taped, Monaghan said. She was strangled with two cloths.

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The prosecutor showed a photograph of a patch of duct tape found in a trash bin near the body of Donna Goldsmith, his fourth victim. The tape was imprinted with a lipstick stain in the shape of a mouth, which Monaghan said was made by Goldsmith. She was strangled with a length of rope, shoelaces and a sheet of black fabric, Monaghan said.

Cheryl Sayers was found dead in Ganesha Park in Pomona on Dec. 30, 1993, with her neck, wrists and ankles bound. Debora Denise Brown was found Jan. 12, 1994, in San Antonio Park in Ontario with a piece of blue fabric tied around her neck, after Hill had called Pomona police.

Hill acknowledged making the phone calls, which Monaghan said were not immediately traceable because they came through the main Police Department line, rather than over the 911 emergency number.

Friedman said that at the time of the killings Hill had lost 50 pounds and spent $3,000 on drugs in a few weeks. The killings stopped just before he was arrested in early 1994 for a series of armed robberies. The DNA samples were taken after he was convicted and sent to prison.

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Those holdups show Hill’s out-of-control life, Friedman said. She also noted that Hill had broken up with his girlfriend, who was a stabilizing influence, and he had been fired from his job when he fell asleep on a forklift and failed a drug test.

The trial is expected to last the rest of the year.

peter.hong@latimes.com


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