SANTA ANA — Defense attorneys rested their case Thursday in the death penalty trial of one of Orange County's most notorious killers without John J. Famalaro ever taking the witness stand to ask jurors to spare his life.
The last witness called was Famalaro's niece, who testified that she still loves her uncle and described him as being "just like a best friend. Kind of like the brother I never had."
Angela Thobe, 20, spoke of her close bond with Famalaro and ended her testimony wiping away tears.
She was one of several witnesses called by the defense in a bid to save Famalaro from being executed for the 1991 death of a Newport Beach woman who was abducted after her car broke down on the freeway.
Last month, an Orange County Superior Court jury convicted the former Lake Forest handyman of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing 23-year-old Denise Huber in 1991.
Huber's disappearance remained one of Orange County's most troubling mysteries for three years--until authorities investigating a possible drug-manufacturing lab discovered Huber's nude and handcuffed body in a freezer in Arizona.
Closing arguments in the trial's penalty phase are scheduled for Monday and jurors could begin deliberating the same day. The panel must recommend whether Famalaro should be executed for his crimes or spend life in prison without parole.
Famalaro, 40, appeared emotional at times during the testimony of Thobe and other family members.
Thobe talked about an uncle who assisted her with her homework, bought her books, took time to teach her sister how to ride a horse and helped her through difficult times, such as a traumatic move to another state and when her parents divorced.
"He just liked spending time with us," she said.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Evans questioned Thobe briefly, asking ask how well she really knew her uncle. He pointed out that the same year Famalaro served as a sponsor for the young woman's confirmation ceremony in the Roman Catholic Church and attended her high school championship basketball game, he was arrested for Huber's murder.
Jurors also heard that Famalaro once helped save a woman from a knife-wielding robber in 1981 at a chiropractic school in Los Angeles.
"John dove from behind the guy," testified Marc Murphy, a former classmate of Famalaro's who also witnessed the attack. "[He] pulled the knife back and wrestled the knife away, pinned the guy down, kept him on the ground until the police got there."
During the trial, defense attorneys have pointed to Famalaro's breakup with a woman, who put their infant up for adoption in the early 1980s, as a turning point in his life.
On Thursday, defense attorneys submitted as evidence a journal that Famalaro kept in 1983.
One journal entry: "Ruth, sometimes I just want to scream and slap some sense into you! Can't you see clearly that I love you and want to spend my life building a happy, holy family with you?"
A later entry details his "desolation" when he discovered the woman was having an affair with another man, which the then-25-year-old Famalaro described as the "ultimate betrayal."
"Oh God, please help me," he wrote. "I feel so much agony. My anxiety level is so high. I need the help of your good graces to see me though. Right now, I don't even feel like I'm going to get though it. I feel like I'm going to die. I want to die. I want to die."