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Boy's Killer Sentenced to Death

Man sexually assaulted and murdered the Costa Mesa 13-year-old, who disappeared in 1979. Defense lawyer says the ruling will be appealed.

July 10, 2004|Matthew Lopas | Times Staff Writer

A Riverside County judge Friday sentenced child molester James Lee Crummel to death for murdering a 13-year-old Costa Mesa boy who was snatched on his way to a bus stop in 1979 and remained missing for more than a decade.

Crummel was convicted in May for abducting James "Jamie" Trotter, sexually assaulting the teenager and then murdering him in a remote area off Ortega Highway in the Santa Ana Mountains.

Before handing down the sentence, Superior Court Judge Dennis A. McConaghy heard testimony from Trotter's family, who urged the judge to send Crummel to death row. Barbara Brogli, Trotter's mother, said that she had no doubt Crummel was the killer and that she wanted justice.

Of her son, she said, "He was a generally good boy who didn't deserve what he got."

Trotter was last seen saying goodbye to his mother before heading toward a city bus stop. He was missing until 1990, when Crummel, 60, contacted police and said he had found a human skull and other bones while hiking in the Santa Ana Mountains. It took six years for the remains to be identified and an additional year for authorities to charge Crummel with murder.

The former cook had previous child molestation convictions in Missouri, Wisconsin and Arizona. He has been serving a life sentence after being convicted in 1999 of molesting an Orange County teenager.

Crummel abducted Trotter and plied him with alcohol before molesting and eventually killing him, according to court testimony. In May, a jury convicted Crummel of first-degree murder with a special circumstance and, after a sentencing hearing, called for the death penalty.

Jeffrey Trotter, Jamie's brother, pleaded Friday with Crummel to make amends by providing information on any other victims he might have killed and whose bodies had not been discovered. Trotter also said he would continue to struggle to find closure, something he has not yet been able to do.

"I hope I can forgive you before I die," he said to Crummel.

Mary Ann Galante, Crummel's attorney, said McConaghy's death sentence was expected and would be appealed.

Before the sentence was announced, the judge denied Galante's appeal for a new trial.

The lawyer said that Crummel was sorry for what Trotter's family had been through but that he could not express regret for a crime he did not commit.

Although still shaken by the 25-year ordeal, Brogli said the sentence did offer her some closure.

The next step for her and her family will be to finally have a memorial service for the boy.

But Brogli said she wanted her son's remains to stay in police custody throughout the appeals process.

Only after Crummel's death will she finally have her son cremated and spread his ashes on the ocean, she added.

Brogli said she was grateful that with Crummel sentenced to die, others would be spared what she has been through.

"I feel good he'll never be out to hurt anyone again," Brogli said.

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