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Cosby's Killer Gets Life in Prison

Courts: After an intense and moving appeal from a family spokesman, judge imposes the maximum term plus 10 years. Defense says appeal has been filed.

August 12, 1998|STEVE BERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As deputies led Mikail Markhasev out of the courtroom to spend the rest of his life in prison for murdering Bill Cosby's son, court papers released Tuesday show how the 1997 roadside homicide left the nationally known entertainer and members of his family intensely bitter toward his killer and unanimously in favor of the maximum possible sentence.

"The malice, hatred and ill will leading to his murder must be kept off America's streets forever," Cosby said in a statement attached to Markhasev's probation and sentencing report.

His wife, Camille, said: "Mikail Markhasev's only regret about his crime is that he got caught. I don't want him to ever experience freedom again."

The report showed that many family members were particularly outraged by what they described as Markhasev's lack of remorse and his "arrogant, smirking" manner in court.

It also revealed Markhasev's hatred of black people, a dedication to gang life and a previously unrevealed vicious knife attack on a black youth less than 18 months before he murdered 27-year-old Ennis Cosby on Jan. 16, 1997.

Superior Court Judge David Perez granted the family's wish, imposing a sentence of life without parole. He added an additional 10 years because Markhasev used a gun when he killed Cosby in a botched robbery attempt.

For the 19-year-old Ukrainian immigrant, the sentencing closes a chapter in a young life that started with promise and ended with gangs and violence.

While armed bailiffs cuffed him, Markhasev, dressed in a white shirt, appeared grim for the first time in his trial. He was still trying to get a few final words to his attorneys as bailiffs pulled him by the arms and led him away. He looked back at his mother, Viktoria, and cousin, Inna Spiegal, both wearing scarves to hide their faces from television and newspaper cameras in the courtroom.

Markhasev's lawyer, Henry Hall, said later that he has already filed an appeal of his conviction.

Earlier, Hall asked Perez for a new trial because juror Stephanie Osborne had complained that at least two jurors had decided Markhasev was guilty before the case had been fully presented to them and that the entire jury did not discuss the evidence sufficiently.

But another juror, Joseph Vagner, 78, told The Times Tuesday that he was perplexed by Osborne's allegations. Vagner said that during the deliberations, when it became clear that Osborne was the lone dissenter, he told her to "stick to her guns" while they deliberated the evidence.

Osborne eventually voted guilty, and partly for that reason, Perez rejected Hall's motion for a new trial.

Cosby was killed after pulling off the San Diego Freeway onto Skirball Center Drive to change a flat tire about 1:30 a.m. Markhasev and two friends--Eli Zakaria and Sara Peters--were using the telephones at a nearby park-and-ride lot to call a drug connection.

Prosecutors say Markhasev wandered up the road to rob Cosby, and ended up killing him.

Defense lawyers say that it was Zakaria who killed Cosby.

The jury, after a four-week trial, believed the prosecutors and found Markhasev guilty July 7.

On Tuesday, before pronouncing sentence, Perez heard an impassioned plea from Ennis Cosby's uncle, Eric Hanks, who was the chosen spokesman for about a dozen family members sitting in the front row.

*

With a family friend using a laptop computer to display pictures of moments in Cosby's life, Hanks talked about his nephew's dreams.

Erin Cosby, Ennis' sister, cried as Hanks read a poem titled "Sisters" that Cosby wrote shortly before his death.

Hanks talked about his nephew's struggle with dyslexia and his dream of establishing a school for disabled children after earning his doctorate in special education at Columbia University Teachers College.

He told how news of Cosby's death devastated the family and how Markhasev's subsequent behavior made the sorrow even more painful.

"The depth of my pain is matched only by the greatness of my shock and horror at the cold-blooded nature of the killing," he said.

"What has Markhasev's response to the killing been?" he asked. "He smiles. He's been smiling throughout the trial . . . wearing a proud and defiant smirk during the court proceedings."

Hanks' statement was one of 15 from Cosby's parents, sisters and other family members that were in the probation and sentencing report. All called for life imprisonment.

Perez listened intently and watched the big screen showing pictures of Cosby when he was a small boy, when he was fishing with his grandparents and playing trumpet in a school band.

Afterward, he asked Markhasev if he wished to speak, and Markhasev merely moved his head from side to side.

Perez, in passing sentence, noted that the younger Cosby was "particularly vulnerable," and that Markhasev's past revealed a juvenile record of "increasing seriousness."

Markhasev and his mother left Lvov, Ukraine, in 1989 when he was 10, eventually settling in North Hollywood. His mother and father had divorced.

*

Despite the move and breakup of his parents' marriage, Markhasev initially thrived in school, earning a place in a gifted program in middle school and attending honors English classes in high school.

But when the Markhasevs moved to Los Alamitos when he was in the ninth grade, he started associating with members of a gang.

In 1995 he stabbed a black youth.

In that case, Markhasev, using an eight-inch locking blade, stabbed him once in the arm and had raised the knife to strike a second time when a police officer arrived and stopped him, juvenile records said. He was sentenced to a year in county detention.

The probation report said Markhasev's subsequent killing of Cosby "demonstrated that he is, and will forever remain, an extreme danger to society."

Hector Tobar contributed to this story.

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