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In Plea Deal, Ex-Convict Pleads Guilty to Aspiring Model's Murder

Admission in mid-trial to the highly publicized '03 crime spares him a possible death sentence.

July 27, 2006|Peter Y. Hong | Times Staff Writer

An ex-convict pleaded guilty Wednesday to the 2003 murder of aspiring model Kristine Johnson, sparing him a possible death sentence for the notorious crime.

The deal was struck in the third week of Victor Lawrence Paleologus' trial, following graphic testimony from women who said that before Johnson's death the purported filmmaker had attacked them after promising them modeling work.

Under the agreement, Paleologus will be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

The 44-year-old man admitted in court to meeting Johnson, 21, at the Century City mall in 2003 and accepted responsibility for her murder.

Although he did not explicitly say he killed her, Paleologus told Johnson's father, "My sympathies are with you," and added that he was guilty "as I have outlined to the court."

Kirk Johnson said he and Kristine's mother, Terry Hall, had supported the plea deal.

"Justice truly prevailed," he said. "We got everything we wanted; he will never be on the streets again."

Paleologus' attorney, Andrew Flier, noted that in addition to the murder charge, his client had faced six counts of theft, forgery and receiving stolen property that under the three-strikes law would have drawn a 25-years-to-life sentence upon conviction.

"He in essence didn't get punished for the murder. This is fantastic for the defense," Flier said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. David Walgren disagreed with that assessment.

"We wanted the guy off the street, and we wanted him to admit murdering her, which is what he did. We're thrilled," the prosecutor said.

Paleologus was accused of luring Johnson by posing as a filmmaker and offering her a chance at a role in a James Bond movie.

A 5-foot-9, 125-pound beauty, Johnson had moved to Los Angeles from Holland, Mich., to model and act.

She had trained as a makeup artist and was working at a cellular phone company when she disappeared after excitedly telling her roommate she was meeting an executive who had promised her she would soon be a Bond girl.

Hikers found her body in the Hollywood Hills nearly a month after her Feb. 15, 2003, disappearance. She had been strangled.

After the highly publicized disappearance, a woman told Santa Monica police that Paleologus had also tempted her with an offer of modeling work.

At the time, he was in jail on suspicion of stealing a car in Beverly Hills.

During this summer's trial, prosecutors called seven women who testified that Paleologus had lured them to different locations for promised photo shoots or auditions.

Two said he attacked them at the phony auditions.

In one of the incidents, a 1998 attack on a woman in Brentwood, Paleologus was convicted of assault to commit rape.

He served three years and five months before he was paroled Jan. 20, 2003, less than a month before Johnson disappeared.

In testimony this month, the assault victim said she met Paleologus at the Skybar in West Hollywood, where he told her he was a production executive and wanted her to work as a model promoting a Bond film.

When she met him a few days later at a closed Brentwood restaurant, Paleologus tied her legs with a nylon strap and tried to remove her clothes, she said. The woman said she was able to fight him off and flee.

Other women testified that Paleologus attracted them with similar offers of work on a Bond movie. Several said he asked them to show up in a standard outfit: a black miniskirt, white top, high heels and tan stockings.

Walgren, the trial prosecutor, credited the women with triggering the guilty plea.

"The cumulative effect of all these women who didn't know each other coming forward with similar stories definitely had an impact," he said.

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