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Death Penalty Urged for Elderly Woman's Killer

Courts: Prosecutor tells jury that Kenneth McKinzie deserves to die for the 1995 murder of Ruth Avril, 73.

November 17, 1998|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Urging jurors to consider the terror that 73-year-old Ruth Avril must have felt moments before she was strangled, Deputy Dist. Atty. Donald Glynn asked the panel Monday to give her convicted killer the death penalty.

In arguing for the execution of Kenneth McKinzie, Glynn recalled how the defendant kidnapped Avril in December 1995, stuffed her in the trunk of her car and drove to a remote area, where he strangled her and then dumped her body.

Glynn told the jury to consider the anguish Avril must have felt trapped inside the trunk, wondering at each turn and bump in the road what was going to happen next.

"She knew--had to know--she was going to die," Glynn said. "Mr. McKinzie has earned the right to know that, at a certain point and at a certain time, he too will die."

Jurors began deliberations late Monday afternoon and are expected to resume this morning.

Defense attorney Willard Wiksell told jurors it would be wrong to recommend a death sentence for his 39-year-old client based on vengeance. He also argued that spending life behind bars without the possibility of parole is far from lenient.

"There is no worse punishment," Wiksell said. "His dreams are gone."

The final arguments by both lawyers capped a short but emotionally charged penalty phase of the capital murder trial. Last week, McKinzie's relatives reluctantly admitted that he used to beat up his mother, sisters and ex-girlfriends.

But they also told the jury that McKinzie was a caring father and generous companion.

An Oxnard resident, McKinzie was convicted Nov. 3 of first-degree murder and related charges for fatally beating and strangling Avril on Dec. 22, 1995. Her body was found in an irrigation ditch by two surfers the next morning.

In addition to murder, the jury found that McKinzie killed Avril during a robbery and burglary. This triggered a penalty phase in which the jury must now decide whether he should be executed or sentenced to life in prison without parole.

*

In arguments Monday, Glynn cited McKinzie's criminal history and four prior felony convictions as aggravating factors to be considered when weighing punishment.

He asked jurors to consider evidence of McKinzie's prior acts of violence against his family and friends, arguing that those incidents demonstrate a pattern of criminal behavior.

"You have a trend here which shows you who Mr. McKinzie is," Glynn said. "He has been beating weaker people for quite some time."

And Glynn talked at length about the circumstances of Avril's murder, another factor he said warrants the death penalty.

Avril lived alone in a second-floor apartment in south Oxnard, across the alley from the defendant's girlfriend. According to court testimony, McKinzie helped Avril carry a Christmas tree into her home just days before the slaying.

Glynn told the jury Monday it is reasonable to assume Avril recognized McKinzie when he jumped her in her garage early on the morning of the killing.

"I wonder if she begged?" Glynn asked, recalling in grisly detail evidence of blood stains inside the trunk of Avril's Ford Taurus.

"He beat her and put her in the trunk of her car and slammed the lid on her head," Glynn told the jury. He added that McKinzie could have left town at that point, changed his name and disappeared. "But he made a choice to get rid of a witness who could identify him."

And he told the jury to consider the defendant's actions after the crime.

*

Showing no remorse, Glynn said, McKinzie returned to Avril's house to steal the presents from under her Christmas tree and sell her belongings for drug money.

"If you have tears, shed them not for Kenneth McKinzie," the prosecutor said. "Shed them for Ruth Avril."

But Wiksell urged jurors to carefully weigh all the evidence when reaching a decision on the proper punishment. He reminded the panel that McKinzie pleaded guilty to every one of his prior felony convictions, which the lawyer described as nonviolent offenses.

While admitting that his client battered relatives a few times, Wiksell said the prosecution's claim that McKinzie beat the women in his life dozens of times was never proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

"These are family squabbles," the lawyer said. "It's a lot of nothing."

As for the circumstances of the murder, Wiksell said there is no such thing as a pretty killing. And he cited evidence that showed McKinzie did not plan to kill Avril but panicked when she fought back during an attempted robbery.

In closing, Wiksell argued that the death penalty should be reserved for serial killers and violent predators who stalk their victims--not individuals like his client.

He described McKinzie as a father of two who faces a worse punishment than anyone can imagine--never playing catch with his son and never seeing his daughter in a school play.

"He will never, ever, ever be free," Wiksell said.

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