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Killer Rages at Prosecutor as Trial Concludes

Courts: Kenneth McKinzie objects to deputy D.A. calling his religious redemption a lie. Defense lawyers ask jurors in second penalty phase to spare their client's life.


In a closing argument punctuated by the defendant's angry outburst, a Ventura County prosecutor urged jurors Monday to send convicted killer Kenneth McKinzie to death row, calling his statements of remorse the hollow words of a desperate criminal.

"He has told you a lie to save his neck," Deputy Dist. Atty. Donald Glynn said at the conclusion of McKinzie's second penalty trial.

But defense attorneys Willard Wiksell and James Farley argued that their client's sorrow is genuine and asked the jury to spare the life of a man who has accepted responsibility for his actions.

"There is nothing weak about asking for sympathy for someone who has turned it around," Wiksell argued. "And life without parole is a severe punishment."

Closing arguments lasted the entire day, and through most of it McKinzie, 39, sat quietly at the defense table.

But late in the afternoon, the defendant erupted and yelled at Glynn after the prosecutor suggested McKinzie had lied about finding religious redemption.

"You're lying," McKinzie shouted.

The judge ordered the jury to disregard the outburst.

McKinzie was found guilty of murder and related charges last October for killing 73-year-old Ruth Avril in December 1995. But jurors could not agree on whether he should be executed or sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Prosecutors decided to retry the penalty phase, and McKinzie's fate now rests in the hands of a second jury.

Glynn told the jury Monday that McKinzie deserves a death sentence because he killed Avril so brutally and then lied about it.

Avril lived alone in south Oxnard. She was beaten 12 times in the head and many other times in the torso and limbs. McKinzie initially denied committing the killing. But on the witness stand last week he admitted attacking Avril in the garage behind her apartment during an attempted robbery.

He testified that he punched Avril three times and slammed her head into the pavement before stuffing her into the trunk of her car. He said he then drove Avril to a remote spot on Arnold Road, where her body was found the next day lying in a ditch.

During last year's trial and the more recent penalty phase, the coroner testified that Avril died from blunt-force injuries and strangulation.

But McKinzie denied strangling her. He said she was alive when they got to Arnold Road. He said she tripped getting out of the trunk and accidentally fell into the ditch, where he left her. He told the jury he didn't realize how badly she was hurt.

Glynn called the defendant's statement "a bold-faced lie."

He told the jury that Avril would have to have been a "gymnast" to tumble into the ditch in the way McKinzie described, and he suggested that the defendant is willing to say anything to avoid execution.

"What he did to Ruth Avril deserves the worst punishment you can give him," Glynn argued. "If this case doesn't deserve the death penalty, then what case does?"

As for McKinzie's statements of remorse, Glynn told jurors to look at the amount of time--1,573 days--that have passed between the time of the murder and the defendant's admission of guilt.

Glynn added: Since the killing, McKinzie ransacked Avril's house at least three times, stealing her stereo, VCR and ATM card. He gave Avril's bathrobe and camera to his daughter for Christmas and sold some items for drug money. And he later lied under oath and blamed the crime on another man.

"He did a despicable thing," the prosecutor argued. "He not only lied about it, but he tried to pin it on someone else."

But Wiksell and Farley told the jury in their closing remarks that the killing was an accident--not the sort of cold-blooded, premeditated murder that should be punished by death.

Wiksell described McKinzie as a troubled, but compassionate man with a 10th-grade education who was addled by drugs at the time of the slaying.

"This was a diseased plan from a diseased mind," he said.

Scared of prosecution, McKinzie initially lied. But now he has admitted wrongdoing and expressed remorse for his crime, Wiksell said, arguing that his client should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole--not death.

"He's going to die in jail one way or another," Wiksell argued. "He doesn't get away with murder--there is no loophole here."

Farley presented the final argument of the day--an impassioned plea in which he asked jurors to look at his client not as a monster, but as a human being.

"It is easy to kill a label: 'Convicted Killer' or 'Brutal Murderer,' " he said. "But behind every label is a human being with a family. We wanted to show you that Mr. McKinzie is a human being . . . not a label. I hope you can see how important that is."

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