SANTA ANA — A judge declared a mistrial Tuesday after a jury deadlocked 9 to 3, with the majority favoring the execution of Robert Mark Edwards for the murder of a Los Alamitos woman that had gruesome similarities to a slaying in Hawaii for which he was already convicted.
Prosecutors must now decide whether to seek another trial to determine what punishment Edwards should receive for raping and strangling 55-year-old Marjorie E. Deeble 10 years ago. She was a real estate agent whose daughter had dated the defendant.
Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. David Brent urged a death sentence, describing Edwards as a sadist who relished torturing his victims and watching them die. Defense attorneys said life imprisonment without parole would be enough punishment for the 35-year-old former Long Beach man, given his remorse. His attorneys also promised that Edwards would be a model prisoner.
Brent portrayed the case as a "tale of two crime scenes," telling jurors they needed only study the similarities between the Hawaii and Los Alamitos murders to conclude both were the work of Edwards.
Deeble was found strangled with her own belt, rigged to a dresser, on May 15, 1986. Edwards was investigated but not charged in the Los Alamitos killing until after the Jan. 25, 1993 slaying of 67-year-old Muriel E. Delbecq, who lived near the defendant on Maui.
Both women were beaten and mutilated before they were strangled, and both had been sexually assaulted with cans of hairstyling mousse, which the prosecution said represented the signature work of a single killer.
Bloody handprints and footprints and other evidence helped Hawaii prosecutors convict Edwards, and he was sentenced in 1994 to five consecutive life terms.
But because under Hawaii law he could have been eligible for parole after 15 years, Orange County prosecutors sought to try him here, where a conviction would yield at least a sentence of life imprisonment without parole, the only option if jurors ruled against execution.
Jurors who voted for the death penalty said the brutality of the crimes was a large factor in their decision; testimony about abuse Edwards suffered as a child and his long battles with alcohol and drug addiction proved troubling for the three holdouts. The defense team had said Edwards is a warm and giving person but has a dark side that is released when he is under the "extreme domination of alcohol."
The man's wish to stay alive for the sake of his 11-year-old son also made the decision more difficult, jurors said.
The majority rejected claims that Edwards was suffering an alcohol-induced blackout and couldn't remember killing either woman.
Said Ruth Cain, who also voted for death: "Blackout or no blackout, you have to be responsible for what you do."
Deputy Public Defender Dan Bates said Edwards was relieved by the mistrial even though he still may face life in prison.
Orange County Superior Court Judge John J. Ryan set a Jan. 10 hearing for prosecutors to disclose what they want to do next.
The mistrial in the penalty phase does not affect the jury's verdict finding Edwards guilty of first-degree murder in Deeble's slaying. The verdict included findings that her murder involved torture and occurred during a burglary, charges that made Edwards eligible for a death sentence.