Sherri Nelson has tried to fill her thoughts with memories from before her sister’s murder in the summer of 1989. She replays happier years on the family farm and remembers her older sister doting on her by twisting her long hair into pretty up-dos.
But she can’t keep her mind from wandering to a darker place. She imagines the moments before her sister Audrey died, as her killer’s hands closed in around her neck.
In a downtown courtroom Thursday morning, Nelson dabbed her eyes with a tissue as a bailiff entered with the man convicted of killing her sister and two other women in South L.A.
Nelson told a judge that Samuel Little, who now uses a wheelchair, had killed her sister in the “most despicable manner,” strangling her and throwing her body into a trash bin. Little, 74, rolled his eyes and threw a stack of papers onto the table in front of him.
A few minutes later, the goddaughter of another victim told the court that Little “has no conscience, no soul.”
“I didn’t do it!” Little screamed in response.
“God will judge you,” shot back Mary-Louise Frias, whose godmother, Guadalupe Apodaca, was among the victims.
Apodaca’s son, Tony Zambrano, also confronted Little, peppering his comments with profanity.
“You took something very dear to me, sir,” Zambrano told Little.
Little swore back, and the two exchanged profanities until Superior Court Judge George Lomeli cut them off.
Prosecutors have described Little as a serial killer who was caught recently after his DNA was matched to genetic evidence left at the scenes of the 1987 and 1989 slayings. The victims — Carol Alford, 41, Audrey Nelson, 35, and Apodaca, 46 — were beaten and strangled, their bodies found in alleyways or abandoned garages.
LAPD Det. Mitzi Roberts says she believes Little is probably responsible for more killings that remain unsolved.
“During the ‘70s and ‘80s was his prime time, and evidence from that time just doesn’t exist anymore,” she said. “But I feel very confident that it’s in the double digits.”
At Thursday’s sentencing hearing, Little read a statement in which he denied being a serial killer, saying his trial had been unfair.
“This conviction was drawn by lies and liars,” he said.
The judge sentenced him to three consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. The brother of one victim pumped his fist in the air and let out a “Yes!”
When a bailiff began wheeling Little out of the courtroom a few moments later, the victims’ families clapped. Little didn’t turn around, but put his hand into a fist and thrust it into the air.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Beth Silverman dismissed Little’s courtroom outburst and his claims that he is innocent.
“I thought it was laughable. The case was solid — we had so many victims; we had DNA,” she said, adding that she thought her office would have sought the death penalty if he were younger.
Little was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder on Sept. 2 after a two-week trial.
Prosecutors said Little preyed on vulnerable women — those who worked as prostitutes or used drugs, and were most likely to go unnoticed or ignored by police.
Little’s crimes went far beyond South L.A., prosecutors argued. At the time of his arrest, police said they were concerned that he could be responsible for other killings across the country. Police say he committed other crimes in 24 states but never served significant time behind bars.