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Serial killer convicted in murders of five Southern California women is sentenced to death

Serial killer convicted in murders of five Southern California women is sentenced to death
Andrew Urdiales, 54, was sentenced to death in connection with five murders in Southern California between 1986 and 1995. (Orange County district attorney)

A former Marine convicted of brutally slaying five women in Southern California and three in Illinois over the course of a decade was sentenced to death Friday.

An Orange County Superior Court jury convicted Andrew Urdiales, 54, in May of five counts of special-circumstances murder, which prompted a second phase of the trial to determine whether he should serve life behind bars or face the death penalty.

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Jurors ultimately recommended in June that he receive capital punishment for killing Robbin Brandley, Julie McGhee, Maryann Wells, Tammie Erwin and Denise Maney between 1986 and 1995. Judge Gregg Prickett affirmed that recommendation on Friday.

“I’m gratified that we finally got this result. When you think about the serial killings and terrible things he did, it’s hard to think of Urdiales as a person — he’s a human monster,” Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said in a prepared statement Friday.

Urdiales’ killings in Southern California began in January 1986 when he stabbed 23-year-old Brandley 41 times in the back, neck, chest and hands with a hunting knife as she walked to her car in a dimly lit parking lot at Saddleback College after a piano concert, according to prosecutors.

Authorities were not able to identify Brandley’s killer, and the case grew cold over the next several years, during which the bodies of McGhee, 29; Wells, 31; and Erwin, 18, were found in deserted areas of Riverside and San Diego counties. Each of the women had been shot in the head, according to prosecutors.

Erwin’s father, Charles Erwin, said during the sentencing hearing Friday that Urdiales killed him when he murdered his daughter.

“This has ruined my life,” he said. “It has turned my physical being into pieces, my mental being into pieces.”

The bulk of Urdiales’ killings in California happened while he was enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and stationed at Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms, according to prosecutors.

Urdiales moved to Illinois after he was discharged from the military, but returned to California in 1995 to vacation in Palm Springs. During that trip, he sexually assaulted and killed Maney, 32, by shooting her in the head, prosecutors said.

Urdiales attorney, Denise Gragg, argued during the trial that brain scans and other tests showed he had symptoms of someone suffering from partial fetal alcohol syndrome stemming from his mother’s drinking while she was pregnant, City News Service reported.

Gragg said brain damage and traumatic events during his childhood caused him to have problems managing his anger and emotions, according to CNS.

Urdiales killed three women in four months in Illinois before he was arrested in November 1996 in Indiana after officers saw him in his truck loitering in an area known for prostitution. Officers found a gun in his car that he was not permitted to carry and confiscated it. A year later, Chicago police officers matched Urdiales’ gun to bullets recovered from the bodies of the three victims.

Urdiales was linked to the Southern California slayings after his arrest. He had been sentenced to death for the Illinois murders, but after the death penalty was outlawed in the state, he was ordered to serve life in prison without parole.

In 2011, Urdiales was extradited to Orange County to stand trial, where Rackauckas decided to seek the death penalty against him based on the nature of the crimes.

“The death penalty is the only just punishment for Urdiales,” Rackauckas said. “He doesn’t deserve to be on the planet with the rest of us.”

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