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California Supreme Court overturns O.C. man's death sentence

Reporting from San Francisco -- The California Supreme Court on Thursday voted unanimously to overturn the death penalty of an Orange County man convicted of burning a woman to death over $100 of methamphetamine.

The state high court ruled that Orange County Superior Court Judge John J. Ryan failed to properly instruct the jury that voted for the death sentence for Gary Galen Brents, who was convicted of the 1995 murder of Kelly Gordon.

Gordon was a prostitute who worked for Brents and had agreed to sell $100 in methamphetamine for him. When he tried to collect, she had neither the drugs nor the money.

Brents then tried to suffocate her, choked her and finally put her in the trunk of a car he doused with gasoline and ignited.

A spokesperson for the Orange County district attorney's office said the agency was reviewing the ruling.

Brents could be retried on the issue of whether he killed Gordon during a kidnapping, a special circumstance that made him subject to the death penalty, or prosecutors could instead ask a judge to resentence him to 75 years to life.

maura.dolan@latimes.com

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