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Man Gets Death Sentence for Killing Officer in 1983

December 05, 2000|CAITLIN LIU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAPD Officer Paul Verna's widow looked across the courtroom at her husband's killer, who had just been sentenced to death for a second time in 15 years.

"I don't accept your apology. I never will," said a tearful Sandy Jackson on Monday. "You viciously took Paul's life and a part of us."

"Closure" for her family will come only when Kenneth Gay is put to death, Jackson said in a San Fernando courtroom packed with Verna's family and LAPD officers, including Verna's now-grown son Bryce.

Gay, soon to be the 172nd person from Los Angeles County on California's death row, continued to insist that another man, not he, had killed Verna. He blamed his plight on the defense attorney who represented him during his first trial in 1985.

"I've never murdered anyone," said Gay, speaking out for the first time since his retrial in San Fernando Superior Court. Gay offered an apology for causing the family pain by insisting on his innocence.

Gay was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1983 Lake View Terrace murder that he and his new defense lawyers argued that he did not commit. In 1998, the California Supreme Court overturned his death sentence on the grounds of incompetent counsel, but left intact the guilty verdict.

After a retrial, a San Fernando jury in October unanimously recommended death, and Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt agreed Monday.

Gay acknowledged that he has committed "a number of horrible crimes" but maintained that another man, Raynard Cummings, was the one who killed Verna.

According to prosecutors, Cummings fired the first shot at Verna before passing the gun to Gay, who fired the remaining five bullets. Cummings was also convicted of first-degree murder in 1985 and is on death row.

Wiatt said overwhelming evidence against Gay fully supported the death sentence. "You murdered in cold blood Officer Paul Verna," Wiatt said.

During the retrial, witnesses testified about Gay's violent past. Among them were robbery victims who recounted how he had beaten them, and an ex-girlfriend who testified that he firebombed her family's house. Several prosecution witnesses, including Cummings' former wife, Pamela, testified that they saw Gay shoot Verna.

Among those testifying for the defense was actor Ed Asner, who unsuccessfully tried to persuade jurors to sentence Gay to life in prison.

While Gay was on death row, he wrote a screenplay, "A Children's Story," which won an American Film Institute contest in 1994. Asner, a judge for the contest, said he was "highly impressed" and called Gay's work a "wonderfully encouraging piece about kids."

Monday in court, tempers flared between prosecutors and Gay's public defenders.

Deputy Public Defender Kenneth Lezin alleged prosecutorial misconduct because Deputy Dist. Atty. Lawrence Morrison called him a "bozo" during his closing argument. Lezin had objected but Wiatt overruled him.

Morrison retorted in court that "based on everything this court has heard," the term "bozo" was a "charitable" description of the public defender.

Lezin also argued that Wiatt had erroneously barred the testimony of several eyewitnesses who would have testified that someone resembling Cummings, not Gay, fired all the shots, and four statements that Cummings allegedly made, bragging that he alone had killed the officer.

On Monday, Wiatt said he reviewed all the facts and believed a death sentence was warranted.

"There is absolutely no doubt in this case that the defendant . . . blasted five shots into this officer who was just doing his job," Wiatt said. "My view of the evidence is that the defendant was more culpable than Raynard Cummings."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeff Jonas called Gay a liar and hypocrite who could have claimed his innocence during the retrial, but chose not to take the witness stand because that would have subjected him to cross-examination.

Jonas also said that the eyewitness testimony the defense claimed to have that could have exonerated Gay was unreliable, and that in other statements, Cummings has said that Gay did fire at Verna, and that Gay also bragged to others that he killed the officer.

Dennis Zine, vice president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League and Verna's former supervisor, wept as he talked about the slain officer, who had won a Medal of Valor for trying to rescue children from a burning building, and called his death a tragedy for the people of Los Angeles.

"He was everything you wanted in a police officer," Zine said.

Killers like Gay, Zine said, "forfeit their right to life when they take the life of others."

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