SAN BERNARDINO — Jack Oscar King, convicted of trying to rape and kill Cheryl Bess and then blinding and disfiguring her by pouring sulfuric acid on her face, was sentenced to a maximum 34-year prison term Wednesday by a Superior Court judge who called the defendant "cruel, vicious and callous."
Judge Don A. Turner said he hopes that by sentencing King, 65, to the maximum possible sentence, the defendant will be in prison for the rest of his life.
"It is the intention of this court to keep Mr. King in custody for as long as possible. This should get the job done," said Turner, who last month presided over the two-week trial.
On Aug. 14, an eight-woman, four-man jury deliberated only two hours before finding King guilty of all eight felony counts stemming from the Oct. 24, 1984, attack in the Mojave Desert that left Cheryl, a former San Bernardino High School honor student who now lives in Orange, virtually without a face.
King, a painter with the San Bernardino County Housing Authority at the time of the attack, showed no emotion while Turner pronounced the sentence. During the 25-minute court procedure, he routinely alternated his gaze from Turner to the desk he shared with his attorney, William Dole of the San Bernardino County public defender's office.
King, dressed in military-green jail overalls, was then taken to the San Bernardino County Jail, where he has been held since his arrest the day Cheryl was attacked. He will be transferred to the California Institute for Men in Chino, where he will serve his prison sentence.
He also was ordered by Turner to pay a $9,000 fine.
King will not be eligible for parole for at least 17 years, said San Bernardino County Deputy Dist. Atty. Dwight Moore, who prosecuted him. Moore said that although King received the maximum possible sentence, the defendant deserved more punishment.
"I'm satisfied that he got absolutely the stiffest sentence possible. But if Mr. King had been a younger man, the sentence would not have been stiff enough. But I don't expect him to ever leave prison," Moore said.
Judge Turner said Norma Bess, Cheryl's mother who was not present during the sentencing, had asked that King be punished in the same manner that he hurt her daughter.
"Anyone aware of the case and Cheryl's feelings can understand the emotions of Cheryl's mother. . . . But society will not lower itself to the level of Jack Oscar King," Turner said. "He acted totally without any conscience or any feelings for humanity in general. He was cruel, vicious and callous."
Still, Norma Bess said later in a telephone interview that the sentence had not been enough.
'Big Deal!' Mother Says
"I just don't know why they didn't execute him and be done with it," the mother said. "Big deal! They are going to keep him off the streets."
The mother also said that King, although in prison, will be more comfortable than Cheryl, who still must face years of constructive surgery to rebuild her face.
"It might be over for King, but it's not over for us. That's the reality," Bess said. "Besides, people like King cannot be rehabilitated. The term 'habitual sex offender' should be stricken from our vocabulary. The first time should be the last time.
"This is the sort of thing that must be stopped. How many more children have to be sacrificed? There are still more like him (King) out there."
King, who served a 16-year state prison sentence for a 1961 unsuccessful rape attempt on a 3-year-old Irvine girl, was convicted largely on the emotional testimony of Cheryl, who lost her ear, nose and hair when she was doused with the sulfuric acid. She was also rendered functionally blind because the acid destroyed her eyelids.
During her testimony, Cheryl, now 16, said her attacker "told me to stop crying or he'd throw acid on me (that) would make my hair fall out and make my head swell up."
The teen-ager testified that she recognized her attacker as being a former maintenance worker at the housing project where she and her mother lived and that she had accepted a ride to school from him because her mother did not have proper bus change that morning.
Instead, she said, her attacker drove her to the Mojave Desert off Interstate 15, where he tried unsuccessfully to rape her, then attempted to choke her because he feared she "would turn him in."
Cheryl said she fought back. But she testified that her attacker was able to empty the bottle of sulfuric acid on her face after rendering her helpless by sitting on her stomach. The attacker then left her for dead, Cheryl said, but she managed to crawl out of the spot and was found hours later lying beside a dirt road by a passing motorist.
Since her attack, Cheryl has undergone several operations to reconstruct her face. Her mother said that Cheryl underwent one operation to rebuild her nose and that she will need at least two more before that aspect of the face reconstruction is completed.
Surgeons have also started work on reconstructing the eyelids destroyed by the acid that also left Cheryl blind. It is the hope of doctors that at least partial eyesight can be restored by reconstruction of the eyelids.
"We have doctor appointments three times a week," Norma Bess said. "Cheryl will have surgery the rest of this year, next year and God knows how many more years. It's not over for Cheryl."