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Death Penalty Bid Is Dropped

Courts: Prosecutors' decision means Valencia man, 44, will be sent to prison for life without parole for killing his parents.

January 04, 2002|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Prosecutors in Northern California dropped plans Thursday to seek the death penalty against a Valencia man convicted of killing his elderly parents over a $30,000 loan.

Testimony in the penalty phase of Jeffrey Lee Duvardo's murder trial was scheduled to begin next Tuesday in Lake County Court, about 90 miles north of San Francisco. But Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Jon Hopkins said he and other county law enforcement officials decided against the death penalty.

"In this case, the only factor in support of the death penalty is the circumstances of the crime," Hopkins said of the decision, which means Duvardo, 44, will be sentenced to state prison for life without the possibility of parole.

Hopkins said none of the jurors disagreed with the decision, and they told him they would not have sentenced Duvardo to death because evidence showed he committed the crime under mental duress and he did not have a prior criminal record.

Defense attorney Stephen Tulanian, who maintained his client's innocence, said he had mixed emotions. "That's better than death, I suppose. But I don't feel good about any part of this case."

The seven-man, five-woman jury convicted Duvardo last month of first-degree murder in the 1999 slayings of Don and Mary Ann Duvardo in their Nice, Calif., retirement home.

During the trial, Hopkins introduced a sample from a blood-stained towel found in the couple's home that tests showed contained Duvardo's DNA. Rental car records presented by the prosecutor showed Duvardo had driven more than 1,100 miles on the day the couple were killed. The distance was enough to get from Southern California to Nice and back.

Ultimately, Hopkins said, Duvardo killed his parents over a loan. The former Boeing employee, who had twice tried unsuccessfully for a career as a police officer, allegedly told his parents he was a CIA operative who would be killed if he did not come up with the money to complete a multimillion-dollar arms deal.

Prosecutors said Duvardo turned on his parents when they began asking about their $30,000 loan. Prosecutors said he had used the money as a down payment on an upscale home near San Francisquito Canyon for his second wife.

A neighbor found the Duvardos' bodies six days after they were killed. Mary Ann Duvardo, 70, was attacked from behind as she sat at a desk. Her throat was slashed and she was stabbed in the head several times.

Don Duvardo, 76, was stabbed 15 times in the chest as he entered the house. His hands were cut to the bone, a sign that he fought for his life, investigators said.

Duvardo is scheduled to be formally sentenced April 4.

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