Child molester on death row commits suicide

Mothers who ousted a convicted child molester from their Newport Beach neighborhood in the late 1990s lauded his death Tuesday.

James Lee Crummel, 68, hanged himself Sunday while on death row at San Quentin State Prison, authorities announced Tuesday. He was sentenced to death for killing 13-year-old James "Jamie" Trotter, who was on his way to school in Costa Mesa in 1979 when authorities say Crummel kidnapped, sexually abused and then murdered him.

Trotter's body wasn't found until several years later, and Crummel wasn't sentenced for the crime until 2004. By then, he was already in prison for other crimes.

Crummel was one of the first Orange County targets of Megan's Law, which allows authorities to notify neighbors if any "high-risk" sex offenders live in their midst.

He was living in the Newport Crest condominiums in 1997 when Newport police notified neighbors that a repeat child molester lived nearby. Crummel had been previously convicted of sex crimes in four states dating to the 1960s.

Darleen Savoji's son fell on his bike in front of Crummel's home and was propositioned to come inside. Savoji, one of Crummel's neighbors, led a group of mothers who picketed outside his condominium.

"I can't believe after all these years I get closure," she said Tuesday. "I don't feel bad. I feel justice has been done."

Amid the mothers' protests, and while police were investigating the murder of Trotter, Crummel was arrested for molesting three teenage boys.

"He was the most evil person I had ever had contact with," said Randy Lawton, a Newport Beach police officer who was the agent on the case. "May all his victims, known and unknown, now have peace."

Another former Newport Crest mother, Justine Howard, said she supports the death penalty as a deterrent, but that in California it's broken and expensive.

"I'm sorry if I sound heartless, but to me he did a favor for the taxpayers," she said. "There's no sympathy on my part as a mother."

— Los Angeles Times Staff Writer Chris Megerian also contributed to this story.

Twitter: @mreicher

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