Advertisement

Vice principal gets death in murders of 5

Times Staff Writer

A Bakersfield jury on Tuesday ordered the death penalty for an educator who murdered his three children, his estranged wife and his mother-in-law in 2003.

Nearly 20 witnesses testified on behalf of Vincent Brothers, a former elementary school vice principal, but jurors were evidently swayed by a prosecutor’s contention that no crime would be more appropriate for capital punishment than the fatal shootings of Joanie Harper, 39; her mother, Earnestine Harper, 70; and children Marques, 4, Lyndsey, 23 months, and Marshall, 6 weeks.

The murders, which took place just after the victims returned home from Sunday worship services, shocked Bakersfield and roiled the city’s close-knit African American community. Earnestine Harper was a civil rights activist, and Brothers was a prominent figure in the Bakersfield schools.

“If not the death penalty for this case, then which case?” asked Lisa Green, a Kern County deputy district attorney, during her closing argument. “If not for these victims, then for which victims?”

Advertisement

It took jurors six hours of deliberations over two days to arrive at their vote for the death penalty. The sentence is to be formally handed down Sept. 29.

In a news conference after Tuesday’s verdict, Green described Brothers as “evil” and said he had lied on the witness stand at least 41 times. During the trial, she told jurors that the educator, who was married four times and briefly jailed for spousal abuse, killed his family because they were a financial burden.

After a three-month trial, Brothers, 44, was convicted May 15 on five counts of first-degree murder.

According to prosecutors, Brothers crafted an elaborate alibi in advance, visiting relatives in North Carolina and Ohio just before the killings. With no physical evidence placing Brothers at the crime scene, the prosecution used odometer readings and dead insects found in a rental car to prove that he had secretly driven from Ohio to Bakersfield to commit the crimes.

Advertisement

Brothers’ attorney, J. Anthony Bryant, suggested that the killings occurred during a robbery. In arguing for a sentence of life without parole, Bryant contended that there was “lingering doubt” about Brothers’ involvement in the killings.

While changing from his jail uniform into a business suit for his court appearance Tuesday, Brothers apparently attached both of his leg restraints to the same leg, rendering them ineffective, according to a spokesman for the Kern County Sheriff’s office. He also was found to have three “makeshift handcuff keys” hidden in his hair, the spokesman said.

His attorney could not be reached for comment.

steve.chawkins@latimes.com

Advertisement


Advertisement