A 42-year-old registered nurse, tearfully protesting her innocence, was sentenced Friday to die in the gas chamber for hiring a co-worker to murder her roommate so she could collect a $100,000 mortgage insurance policy.
Maureen McDermott, a former nurse at County-USC Medical Center, became the second woman sentenced to die in California since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, prison officials said. If executed, she would be the fifth woman ever to be killed by the state.
Wearing a black suit, McDermott sat stoically as Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Alan B. Haber formally sentenced her to death for the April 28, 1985, murder of Stephen Eldridge.
Haber described McDermott--whose work was highly praised by superiors and co-workers at the hospital--as "a compassionate nurse during her career," but said "the circumstances of the crime demonstrate that Miss McDermott had a complete disregard for human life."
A jury on March 2 convicted McDermott of first-degree murder with special circumstances in Eldridge's death and of attempted murder in a March 21, 1985, knife attack on Eldridge arranged by McDermott. The same jury unanimously recommended last April that McDermott die for the crimes.
Eldridge, 27, was stabbed 44 times and his penis cut off in the Van Nuys home he co-owned with McDermott. Prosecutors alleged that McDermott paid a former orderly at County-USC Medical Center, James Flores Luna, to kill Eldridge and mutilate his body in hopes that police would mistake it for a homosexual crime of passion.
She also induced Luna to carry out the earlier attempt on Eldridge's life, then comforted Eldridge while plotting another attempt, the prosecution charged. Eldridge confided to a friend that he felt secure when McDermott was with him, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Katherine Mader.
McDermott, who did not testify in her own behalf, spoke for the first time since her trial began, accusing the judge of favoring the prosecution. "I want you to know I have no fear of dying. However, I wish not to die in vain," she told the judge.
"I have sat in this courtroom and listened to the district attorney verbally rape me and witnesses perjure themselves," McDermott continued, referring to Mader.
"Never in my life have I ever come across such a power-hungry woman . . . with so little integrity. I did not kill Steven Eldridge and I had nothing to do with the murder," McDermott said, breaking into tears.
Eldridge's brother, Patrick--speaking for his mother, father and sister, who sat quietly in the front row of the courtroom--asked the judge to order McDermott put to death. "Nothing we do or say here today will ever bring Steven Eldridge back, but we want to make sure she never does it to another person," he said.
Mader told Haber that McDermott "has shown no remorse" for the killing and called her "one of the coldest human beings you will ever see."
Carl Burkow, one of McDermott's two court-appointed lawyers, had urged the judge to sentence McDermott to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
He pointed out that Luna, the key witness against McDermott, made a deal with prosecutors under which he was spared the risk of the death penalty in exchange for his testimony. Luna, 36, pleaded guilty to murder with special circumstances and is scheduled to be sentenced July 6. Two other men who helped kill Eldridge received immunity in exchange for testifying.