A Superior Court judge sentenced a 25-year-old reputed gang member to death Tuesday for the execution-style slayings of two Compton police officers in 1993 and the murder of a third man a year before.
Judge Edward A. Ferns read the detailed execution order to a stoic Regis Deon Thomas after an emotional hourlong hearing in which the officers' parents and Compton's police chief pleaded for the death penalty while Thomas, his wife and his mother pleaded for mercy.
"Regis' mother said [during the trial] she knows what we feel, but no one knows what we feel until they too have lost a child," said Tonia MacDonald, the mother of James Wayne MacDonald, who was gunned down during his last shift as a volunteer reserve officer on the Compton force. "Maybe when Regis is dead, she'll know what we feel."
"It's not going to help your sons, taking my son's life," responded the killer's mother, Iris Thomas, shaking and sobbing as she stood at the podium of the crowded courtroom a few minutes later. "I don't know how you feel for your sons today, but I have a hurt inside for you trying to kill mine. Taking my son's life is not going to bring your's back. . . . Please don't kill my son."
Ferns imposed the sentence recommended by the jury that convicted Thomas in June of the Feb. 22, 1993, murders of MacDonald, 23, and Officer Kevin Michael Burrell, 29, during what began as a routine traffic stop. The sentence includes Thomas' January, 1992, killing of Carlos Adkins in an unrelated crime.
The judge rejected arguments by defense attorney Jay Jaffe that Thomas' fatherless upbringing in a Watts housing project and his volunteer work with the disabled should be balanced against the heinousness of the crimes to justify life in prison instead of execution.
"The verdict is not contrary to the law or the evidence," Ferns said. "The jury's finding of death is proper."
Thomas will be transported to San Quentin State Prison within 10 days, although he probably will remain on Death Row for a decade while his case is appealed, officials said Tuesday. California law lets him choose to die in the gas chamber or by lethal injection.
Thomas, wearing a tie and cardigan sweater, turned to the officers' families during the hearing to offer his condolences, even as he proclaimed his innocence.
"I've been in jail for 2 1/2 years. The day that I came to jail, I knew I was going to be convicted, I knew there was going to be the death penalty, even though I knew in my heart I didn't do it," he said. "All I've heard in this courtroom is 'kill, kill, kill.' I've always been taught that killing is wrong, but now I know different, because people are begging to kill me."
MacDonald and Burrell, a Compton native and five-year police veteran, were the first officers shot on duty in the history of the Compton force. A massive hunt after their slayings netted five arrests in other cases, solving three murders and two attempted killings.
The officers were wearing bulletproof vests when they stopped a red pickup truck about 11 p.m., but were knocked to the ground by bullet wounds to their limbs. With the officers lying in the rain-soaked street, Thomas pumped bullets into their heads, execution-style, according to trial testimony.
"It brings to an end a very, very long journey for us and a very emotional one," Compton Police Chief Hourie Taylor said after the judge's ruling. "There were certainly days when we were wondering if we would ever identify a suspect, let alone bringing him to justice.
"There's certainly no elation on our part. It's not going to bring back Kevin, it's not going to bring back James. But there is some finality," he said.
About a dozen uniformed Compton officers, plus several detectives and department brass, attended Tuesday's hearing. Many wore blue enamel ribbons to honor all law enforcement officers killed on duty; one had a silver pin of two miniature police shields with the names "Kevin" and "James" on his lapel.
MacDonald's parents each wore a gold pendant replica of their son's badge, the date of his death and the initials E.O.W.--"End of Watch"--inscribed on the back.
"There are people who do not deserve the gift of life on this beautiful planet," MacDonald's father, James MacDonald Sr., said during the court hearing. "Jimmy deserved to live. Regis Thomas does not."
Clark Burrell, Kevin's father, broke into sobs after he spoke his first words from the podium.
"I taught Kevin each and every day to respect everybody, from the President of the United States to the wino on the street. If you give respect, you can get respect," he said. "How you can go around and take another person's life is hard to say. Mr. Thomas took three. I hope he pays."
At a news conference outside of court, Burrell added: "He's going to have to pay for it on Earth, and after he leaves Earth. His soul will probably never rest."
Thomas' wife Deshaunna and 8-year-old daughter Cherish brought Father's Day cards and handmade drawings to court for the convict. His mother said after the ruling that she remains hopeful about the prospects of an appeal.