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FAMALARO DEATH PENALTY VERDICT

Victim's Father Wishes to Live Long Enough to See Killer Die

Family: Though moved by testimony about Famalaro's traumatic childhood, he sees execution as the 'ultimate step.'

June 19, 1997|GREG HERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — The father of murder victim Denise Huber only hopes he lives long enough to watch John J. Famalaro be executed, and he worries the long death penalty appeal process might keep that from happening.

"I'd like to witness it," said 58-year-old Dennis Huber, who attended each day of the trial with his wife, Ione. "It's not that I'd like to see somebody die; that's not the point. It's just that I think it would be the ultimate step. I want to live to see it."

The Hubers were not unmoved by testimony about Famalaro's psychological torment, allegedly at the hands of his mother, and about his traumatic childhood, which defense attorneys contended included sexual abuse by an older relative.

But the parents still came away believing that the death penalty is the right punishment for the man who killed their 23-year-old daughter and stored her body in a freezer for three years as they conducted a widespread search for her.

"It didn't excuse what he did," the father said. "Everyone has problems. It doesn't give them the right to kill somebody."

To Dennis Huber, what emerged during the penalty phase was a portrait of a man with a "Jekyll and Hyde" personality.

"There was just this other side," Dennis Huber said. "He was capable of serving as his niece's sponsor for her [Catholic Church] confirmation knowing he had a body in a freezer."

The Hubers served as the conscience of the trial, sitting in the front row each day only feet away from the defendant. Their tearful testimony about the loss of their daughter and their everlasting grief was the most poignant of the trial's penalty phase and even left Famalaro in tears.

The earlier criminal portion of the trial had been a strain on the Hubers, who endured listening to graphic details about the murder.

"As painful as some of the stuff was, at least we don't have to listen to that again," Dennis Huber said. "But I'm glad I did. There's nothing left for your imagination, and that's behind us."

The couple is also fiercely protective of their daughter's reputation. They were concerned and angry when defense attorneys made remarks about the drinks Denise had before she disappeared and hinted to the jury that she may have been afraid to call her parents the night her car became disabled on the Corona del Mar Freeway, where she encountered Famalaro.

But during the penalty phase, the Hubers were visibly more relaxed and no longer worried that Famalaro would somehow escape conviction.

"That's the one I was most concerned about," said Ione Huber, 53. "That was the big one. We just wanted to make sure he never got out again."

While much was learned during both stages of the trial, the Hubers are still not satisfied that they know the whole truth. They believe that only Famalaro, who did not take the stand in his own defense, can tell them how their daughter was abducted and why.

"I really would like to know what happened," she said. "They still have not given us that."

Although they say there will never be closure for them, the completion of the trial was important and they will now return to the new life they have built in Mandan, N.D., where they moved shortly after their daughter's body was discovered in 1994.

"It's a big, big step," the father said. "For more than a year, this trial has always been in front of us and there were all these delays. It won't be there anymore. It's done. We can go on with our lives."

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