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Jury: Crummel Deserves to Die

Child molester murdered a Costa Mesa boy in April 1979 near Ortega Highway. Panel notes that he showed no remorse for the killing.

June 08, 2004|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

A Riverside County jury on Monday called for the execution of James Lee Crummel, a serial child molester convicted of murdering a 13-year-old Costa Mesa boy whose disappearance remained a mystery for almost two decades.

Crummel, 60, abducted James "Jamie" Trotter on an April 1979 morning as he headed to a bus stop to meet a friend.

After being plied with alcohol, Trotter was taken to a wooded area in the Cleveland National Forest where he was molested and killed.

Crummel helped police solve the case. He contacted police in 1990, reporting that he had found a human skull and bones while hiking off Ortega Highway in Riverside County. It took authorities seven years to determine that the remains belonged to Trotter, and then to prove Crummel was the boy's killer.

"[Crummel] gave his victims no mercy, so I can't think of anything better than [the death penalty] for him," said Barbara Brogli, Trotter's mother, who now lives in Northern California. "Where he'll be ... will make the world a better place."

Jurors dismissed a plea for a life imprisonment from Crummel's attorneys, who argued that their client suffered brain damage from repeated beatings as a child.

The jurors also said Crummel's violent past -- he has been convicted of child molestation in four states over 40 years -- also was damning.

"What decided his fate was his attitude," juror John Gipson said outside the courtroom. "[Crummel] showed no remorse; he never said anything in his defense."

Defense attorney Mary Ann Galante said she would probably appeal the death sentence, which is scheduled to be formally announced by Riverside County Superior Court Judge Dennis M. McConaghy on July 9.

"We never said he was a vegetable," Galante said. "We said the damage caused him to have a problem controlling his impulses."

Galante said that the judge should have stopped some evidence from Crummel's previous crimes from being used against him and that McConaghy should have allowed the jury to consider a defense theory that "Freeway Killer" William Bonin might have been responsible for Trotter's murder.

On May 18, the jury convicted Crummel of first-degree murder with a special circumstance.

The foreperson, who asked to not be identified, said that during the sentencing phase of the trial, jurors mapped out a timeline of Crummel's life of violence since 1961 before deciding he should die for killing Trotter.

"I could not be more pleased," Jeffrey Trotter, Jamie's older brother, said Monday.

"The fact that [Crummel] has been able to get away with the things he did for so long ... there are not words to describe the loathing I have for this person. That he'll be nowhere near anyone else's child again will do for justice, until final justice comes along."

During the trial, Riverside County Assistant Dist. Atty. Bill Mitchell told jurors that the Trotter murder fit Crummel's criminal profile.

In 1990, Crummel reported finding human bones while hiking, telling officers that a partial skull he located in an area badly scorched by a wildfire seemed to be "looking at me."

"[Crummel] wouldn't have been here if he hadn't turned in those bones," the jury foreperson said.

The one-time cook was charged with Trotter's slaying in 1997, less than a year after the bones were identified as belonging to the missing boy.

Trotter's mother broke down in tears after the guilty verdict. She said she despised Crummel for hiding his crime for so long and for refusing to provide names or details of other possible sexual assault victims -- "who, I have no doubt, exist," she said -- when he was offered a plea bargain.

Brogli said a long-postponed memorial service for her son would finally be conducted this year.

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