In a poignant epilogue to a year consumed by anguish and rage, the family of slain model Linda Sobek finally confronted photographer Charles Rathbun in a Torrance courtroom Monday before the convicted murderer was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in state prison.
"I have never known what it was like to despise someone like I despise this person," Sobek's father, Bob, told the packed courtroom as Rathbun sat silently. "God will punish you, Charlie."
The sentencing of Rathbun came six weeks after a jury found the 39-year-old freelance photographer from Hollywood guilty of sodomizing and strangling Sobek during a photo shoot in November 1995 on a dry lake bed near Palmdale.
Although Rathbun maintained that he accidentally asphyxiated the 27-year-old Hermosa Beach model during an argument, the jury found him guilty of first-degree murder and of tying up Sobek during a brutal sexual assault that may have involved his .45-caliber pistol.
The gruesome nature of Sobek's death was a focal point of Rathbun's five-week trial and of Monday's proceedings, where Superior Court Judge Donald F. Pitts granted the prosecution's request to sentence Rathbun to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The district attorney's office long ago concluded that it would be difficult to win a death penalty for Rathbun because he had no felony convictions and led authorities to Sobek's body.
"The amount of excruciating pain Linda Sobek must have suffered . . . defies comprehension," prosecutor Steve Kay told the court.
And the cold-blooded nature of Rathbun's crime, Kay added, was matched only by his icy disregard for what he had done. "The thing that stands out most for me is the defendant's complete lack of remorse at what he did," Kay said.
Before pronouncing sentence, Judge Pitts acknowledged the ordeal of Sobek's family and evidence that Rathbun attempted for days after Sobek's murder to go on with his life as if nothing ever happened.
"Obviously, no one who has not endured the loss of a child . . . can possibly understand your grief, your anger," Pitts told Sobek's family, including mother, Elaine, and brother, Steve.
"Mr. Rathbun," Pitts continued, "I don't know if you realize the pain you have caused--first to Linda Sobek and then to her family."
With that, Pitts read an excerpt from a probation report that recommended a life sentence for Rathbun. "To have so violently and completely abused another human being is unthinkable by anyone of conscience," Deputy Probation Officer Michael Lerquier wrote. "To show or express no sincere remorse, or acknowledge culpability for his actions, as the defendant has done, discloses the full depth of his malevolent character."
While Rathbun did not address the court, his attorney, Mark Werksman, acknowledged that there was nothing he or his client could say to comfort the family and friends of Linda Sobek.
"Their grief is unimaginable," Werksman told the court. "At this point, apologies are terribly inadequate . . . but apologies are all that my client has to offer."
But that act of contrition was rebuffed by Sobek's family.
"How can you sit there every day the way you do?" Elaine Sobek angrily asked Rathbun as he sat, expressionless, only feet away. "Doesn't this bother you?"
Elaine Sobek then urged Pitts to impose the maximum sentence of life in prison for Rathbun. "Please don't let him free . . . to do this to another family," she said.
Although Rathbun was once described by authorities as a possible serial killer, authorities to date have only prosecuted him in Sobek's murder. But on Monday, prosecutor Kay and Sheriff's Sgt. Mike Robinson, who led the homicide investigation, said an investigation continues into any possible links between Rathbun and the 1992 slaying of model Kimberly Pandelios. The partial skeletal remains of the blond 20-year-old from Northridge were found March 3, 1993, at a site in Angeles National Forest about four miles from where Sobek's body was recovered Nov. 25, 1995, in a shallow grave.
As Rathbun is sent to prison, his brother, Robert, remains under criminal investigation for testifying that he recovered explicit photographs--purportedly of Sobek--not far from where her body was discovered. Since those photographs were introduced as evidence, authorities have contended that they were manufactured to advance Charles Rathbun's explanation that he had consensual sex with Sobek prior to her accidental death.
After Monday's proceedings, Sobek's family again met a crush of reporters on the courthouse steps to share--perhaps one last time--how their lives have been torn asunder by her murder.
And when they had finished, Elaine Sobek was asked whether the chance to address her daughter's killer had brought her own life any closer to peace.
"I don't know. I just don't know," she said in a voice that was clear but shaky.
"I mean, you know, nothing is going to bring her back."