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Jury Recommends Life Sentence in Studio City Killing

June 29, 1988|PATRICIA KLEIN LERNER | Times Staff Writer

A Van Nuys Superior Court jury recommended Tuesday that a Hollywood man be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for strangling a Studio City businesswoman and dumping her body in her back-yard hot tub.

Stephen Vulpis, 29, was convicted by the same jury June 14 of first-degree murder in the course of a burglary and robbery in the May 7, 1986, killing of Heidi Kaplan Scarbrough, 34.

That jury also convicted Vulpis of one count of kidnaping and nine counts of burglary, robbery and attempted robbery. Those charges stem from five unrelated incidents during a crime spree a week after Scarbrough's murder.

Death Penalty Was Possible

Judge Alan B. Haber is to consider the convictions on all the charges when he sentences Vulpis on Sept. 2.

Because Vulpis was convicted of committing a murder in the course of a burglary and robbery, the jury had the choice of recommending the death sentence or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Vulpis shook his head, grinned and patted James D. Gregory, one of his two lawyers, on the back after the recommended sentence was read by a court clerk.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Michelle R. Rosenblatt, who had sought the death penalty for Vulpis, said, "Death would have been appropriate in this case." But she added: "At least we can all be relieved that he will serve a sentence for the rest of his life and not be a menace to society."

James Cooney, one of Vulpis' attorneys, said the recommended sentence is proper but that a new trial will be requested.

In rejecting the death penalty, the jury reasoned that Vulpis did not intend to kill Scarbrough but did so "in the heat of battle" after she surprised him during a burglary, said jury foreman Linda M. Barnes, 38, of Mission Hills.

"We didn't feel the death penalty was warranted," Barnes said. "We felt pity for him."

Jury Previously Split

Juror Charles Bradford, 39, a Los Angeles County employee who lives in Lake View Terrace, said that early in the deliberations the jury was split, with four members advocating the death penalty. But jurors later unanimously voted for the lesser penalty, he said.

Another juror, Barbara Faulkner, 35, a U.S. Postal Service employee from Pacoima, said jurors took into consideration that "none of his previous crimes involved violence."

"For him to show no emotion when his mother testified really shocked us," Faulkner said, referring to testimony by Vulpis' adopted mother, Edna Matera, who tearfully described Vulpis' drug problems and bouts with crime while pleading for mercy during the penalty phase of the trial.

"We were all in tears," Faulkner said.

Scarbrough was found dead in the hot tub May 7, 1986. Rosenblatt told the jury that Vulpis killed Scarbrough after she discovered him burglarizing her home, from which she ran an executive recruiting business.

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