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Death Sentence Rendered for '91 Murder

September 27, 1997|THAO HUA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — A 53-year-old man who fatally shot a Tustin clerk during a $20,000 robbery was sentenced to death Friday after the slain man's relatives confronted the gunman for the first time.

John Clyde Abel, who is already serving a 44-year prison sentence for a series of unrelated robberies, continued to proclaim his innocence moments before Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert R. Fitzgerald sentenced him to die for his crime.

As the judge read a list of the charges against the defendant, Abel leaned back with his elbow propped on the armrests of a wooden chair, showing no emotion.

"I'm innocent. That's all I have to say," said Abel, who wore an Orange County jail-issued jumpsuit, in contrast to the suit and tie donned during trial.

Earlier this year, a jury convicted Abel of walking up to Armando Miller, 26, outside a bank on Jan. 4, 1991, and shooting him once in the left temple. Abel then took the $20,000 that Miller had withdrawn for his family's check-cashing business.

On Friday, the mother of Miller's daughter relived the moment she saw him unconscious on a hospital bed.

"A few hours earlier, Armando had been changing diapers for our baby, and when I saw him next, he was just a body," Holly Daniels, 28, told Abel during his sentencing hearing. "I will not rejoice in your death [sentence]. . .I believe you're a coward."

Daniels said outside the courtroom she that has managed to go on with her life seven years since the murder, but it remains painful when her 7-year-old daughter, Daica, asks to see her father.

"She wants to know why daddy can't just come down [from heaven] for a little bit. And I don't have the answer to that. Nobody has the answer because of that man," Daniels said of Abel.

Miller's 53-year-old mother was more forgiving in her address to Abel.

"I know God is going to forgive him," America Miller said. "And I forgive him too."

During trial, defense attorney Ed Freeman tried to undermine the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses, among them Lorraine Ripple, Abel's former partner in crime. Ripple told jurors that the serial robber had confessed to her about a killing of a store clerk, who prosecutors identified as Miller.

In asking the judge to spare his life, Abel insisted he was innocent and said he never discussed a murder with Ripple, whom he called a lunatic.

Abel said Ripple fabricated the story to get back at him for spurning her affection.

But prosecutor Lew Rosenblum argued at trial that Ripple wasn't the only witness and that her story was corroborated by others, including three eyewitnesses who identified Abel as the killer.

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