FULLERTON — A 25-year-old man who beat and strangled his girlfriend and then drove his car off a cliff, killing their 13-month-old boy, was sentenced Friday to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, attorneys said.
The sentence was expected by both the prosecutor and the attorney for Danny Eugene Stewart, who was found guilty in March of the murders of Megan Whalley and Nicholas Stewart.
Stewart admitted to strangling his 19-year-old girlfriend in her Orange home on the night of Jan. 10, 1995, then driving the car off a 300-foot cliff on the Ortega Highway, in an attempt to kill himself and the boy.
The baby was found dead the next day, still dressed in his red-footed pajamas. Danny Stewart was wearing a seat belt and survived the crash.
Stewart contended during his 2 1/2-week trial that he never planned to kill them and acted out of rage. But jurors heard a taped interview in which Stewart told police he killed the boy so they could be together in death.
"There really wasn't any other possibility," said Deputy Public Defender Donald Rubright. "The only sentence that the judge could impose was life in prison without the possibility of parole. . . . It was a profoundly painful case."
Stewart had asked to not be present in court until the judgment was read, in order to avoid hearing the victims' family speak, but the judge denied the request, Deputy Dist. Atty. Elizabeth Henderson said.
When Whalley's mother told the Fullerton courtroom that the fact that Stewart survived and will continue to suffer is a form of justice, Stewart blurted out, "I agree," and was reprimanded by the judge, Henderson said.
"It was an almost unimaginable tragedy for their family," Henderson said of the murders. "I suppose the fact that justice was done gives them some consolation."
Witnesses testified that Stewart was angry at Whalley, a community college student who hoped to become a teacher, because she was trying to break up with him. Stewart had also threatened to kill her the night before the slayings while playing melancholy songs at an Orange bar, according to testimony.