An Orange County jury on Thursday recommended the death penalty for Edward Charles III, convicted of killing his brother, father and mother--four years and four juries after he was charged with the murders.
Two previous panels deadlocked over his punishment and another rendered a death verdict that was thrown out because of juror misconduct. The fourth panel, consisting of six men and six women, took just over a day to reach a decision.
"We're not condemning Eddie Charles to death," said jury foreman Chuck Makarewicz, 40. "He did that when he committed the brutal crime."
Charles, 26, betrayed little emotion as the court clerk read the verdict. He sat passively with his hands clasped, his head slightly bowed, and occasionally leaned over to talk to his attorney. No relatives were present in the Santa Ana courtroom Thursday.
Prosecutor David Brent, who has handled the case from its beginning, was visibly relieved by the verdict. "It is unbelievably gratifying to me," he said. "I feel like I have reached the end of a very long journey."
Authorities say Charles killed his family in November 1994 after they had dinner together at home in the Sunny Hills neighborhood of Fullerton.
The motive was not clear, but prosecutors say Charles--a college dropout working as a mechanic--was jealous of his younger brother, Danny, a 19-year-old USC music student. Officials say he also felt rejected by his parents, Dolores, 47, and Edward Charles II, 55.
Many details of the crime also remain murky: He stabbed his brother and later--perhaps after discovering the attack was not fatal--struck him several times with a large wrench, according to evidence introduced during his trial.
Later that evening, Charles bludgeoned his father, a Hughes Aircraft engineer, with a blunt instrument and strangled his mother. Police found all three bodies in a burning car in La Mirada.
Charles was convicted of the murders in January 1996, but the jury deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of the death penalty during the sentencing phase.
A second panel was assembled that year to reconsider the punishment and reached an unanimous decision in favor of death. But because a juror had consulted a friend before voting, the verdict was thrown out by the judge. Earlier this year, a third panel deadlocked again, voting 11 to 1 in favor of death.
Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg granted a fourth penalty phase over protests from defense attorneys, who argued the court should sentence Charles to life in prison without possibility of parole.
They said a fourth attempt at a death sentence would be unprecedented and that Charles' family had suffered enough from the crimes. An aunt and a cousin have testified they do not want to see him executed.
"The issue really is what is the appropriate punishment for Eddie," said defense attorney Thomas Michael Goethals. "For 22 1/2 years, he never got into any trouble. . . . He can, if so allowed, still make a contribution while in prison for the rest of his life.'
Prosecutor Brent, however, contended the viciousness of the murders made a death sentence appropriate and just. In killing his father, for example, Charles crushed his skull and ribs.
Because the facts of the case were not in dispute, the most recent penalty phase was relatively brief. Attorneys went through more than 30 witnesses in three days and the whole proceeding lasted just over a week.
Brent said he would not have argued so hard for a new penalty phase if previous juries had not been so close.
"I just couldn't get over the thought that 34 jurors [in the previous panels] were saying this was the right thing," he said. "Now, there are 46."
The latest panel of jurors were swayed by the gruesome circumstances of the crime and Charles' apparent lack of regret, said foreman Makarewicz, an advertising salesman from Newport Beach.
"If he had shown any type of remorse" it may have been different, he said.
Makarewicz said the jurors, none of whom had previous knowledge of the case, were evenly divided when they began discussions Wednesday morning. But by Thursday--after deliberations that prompted one juror with a son about Charles' age to cry--the decision was unanimous, he said.
Formal sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 15.