A Sepulveda man who admitted helping to attack a Sylmar motel manager in 1982 before an accomplice murdered the man was sentenced Tuesday to 25 years to life in prison.
James E. Jennings, 24, pleaded guilty in March to two counts of first-degree murder for his part in a robbery rampage the night of July 22, 1982, that prosecutors said led to the murders of two men.
During the trial of J. D. Adams Jr. and Chester Longmire, Jennings testified that he and Adams forced their way into an apartment at the Motel 6 in Sylmar, where manager Kenneth Holbrook and his wife, Clyda, lived.
But Jennings said he left before Adams stabbed the couple in the back, killing Kenneth Holbrook, 51, and seriously injuring Clyda, 58.
Jennings also testified that, three hours earlier, he and Adams tried to rob Joseph Gulvas in Hollywood as Gulvas walked home from a restaurant. Jennings said he returned to the car, leaving Adams alone with Gulvas, before the man was attacked. Gulvas, 54, died of a single stab wound in his back.
Adams and Longmire, who Jennings said drove the getaway car during the attacks, were convicted of murdering Holbrook. Jurors did not reach a verdict on charges that they also killed Gulvas.
On Tuesday, Jennings pleaded with San Fernando Superior Court Judge Edward I. Gorman to reduce the charges against him from first- to second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life.
"I've changed, your honor, I've changed," Jennings said, apologizing for "getting involved" with drugs. "I'll never come back to court. I'll never even get intoxicated again. I've learned my lesson."
Saying that he twice has been attacked in jail, Jennings said his life has been threatened by gang members because he testified against Adams and Longmire.
Should 'Pay My Dues'
"I feel that I should go to prison to serve my time and pay my dues," Jennings said. "But every year I spend in there is one more year they can get at me. My life isn't worth a cent in there."
Gorman said he would not reduce the first-degree murder charges, noting that Jennings agreed to a plea bargain that included dismissal of several additional charges and an agreement that he would serve the sentences on both murder charges concurrently.
Gorman said Jennings, who received five years' credit for time served since his arrest, will be given special protection while in prison, including a transfer out of the state if authorities deem that necessary.
Adams, who could be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole, and Longmire, who could get as much as 38 years to life in prison, are scheduled to be sentenced next month.