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East Valley Focus

VAN NUYS : Man Sentenced to Death for Shooting

July 03, 1993|THOM MROZEK

A jury decided Friday that a Van Nuys man should be put to death for murdering a card player during a robbery in a Van Nuys park.

Lanell Craig Harris, 26, was convicted of first-degree murder for shooting 51-year-old Julian Contreras on Aug. 7, 1991, at the Van Nuys Recreation Center, where the victim and several friends were playing cards.

Harris' mother screamed and cried for minutes when a court clerk read the verdict in Van Nuys Superior Court.

Outside the courtroom, several jurors were immediately brought to tears when the defendant's mother, Doris Harris, approached and said she understood that the jury was only doing its job.

"They said they looked for a reason to spare his life, but they couldn't find one," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Shellie Samuels.

Superior Court Judge Bert Glennon Jr. will formally sentence Harris Aug. 9.

There is an automatic appeal to the California Supreme Court in all death penalty cases.

Evidence at Harris' trial indicated that Contreras was first shot when he hesitated to turn over his wallet, but then Harris pumped two more rounds into the victim's back as he lay on the ground.

An accomplice in the robbery has never been captured.

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