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Jury orders death penalty for man convicted in freeway slayer case

Ivan Hill strangled his six victims and left them on roadsides during a 10-week period in the early '90s. Sentencing is set for late March.

January 03, 2007|Jill Leovy and Peter Y. Hong | Times Staff Writers

A jury Tuesday ordered the death penalty for serial killer Ivan J. Hill, who was convicted of murdering six San Gabriel Valley women a dozen years ago in the "60 Freeway Slayer" case.

Hill, 45, killed Betty Sue Harris, Roxanne Brooks Bates, Helen Hill, Donna Goldsmith, Cheryl Sayers and Debra Denise Brown between November 1993 and January 1994, strangling them by various means, then dumping their bodies on roadsides.

Hill, a hulking, bearded man in a gray suit, stared straight at Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler as the jurist read the lengthy verdict Tuesday.

As Fidler listed the six victims' names and six murder counts in turn -- followed by six repetitions of the word "death" -- Hill's brow furrowed more and more deeply.

Jurors sat grim-faced, looking neither at Hill, convicted in November, nor at the two dozen spectators behind him. An elderly woman related to one of the victims murmured, "Oh, God," as the judge prepared to read the verdict, then clutched a handkerchief to her lips and wept as the judge's voice rang out.

Tuesday's verdict was "a long time coming," said Tony Goldsmith, whose wife, Donna, was a victim. "I never gave up. Never ... I knew this day would come."

Public Defender Jennifer Friedman expressed disappointment. "We appreciate all the hard work this jury did as well as how conscientious they were," she said. "But we don't see any purpose being served by death penalty in this case. [Hill] has shown himself to be a model prisoner. He can be safely imprisoned for the rest of his life."

The jury's decision assured the former warehouseman a place on death row, although a federal judge has temporarily halted executions in California. (The state has been ordered to change its lethal-injection procedures to ensure they don't violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.)

Hill grew up in Pomona, spent his late adolescence in the California Youth Authority for his part in a robbery in which a man was killed by one of his accomplices. Later, he earned a community college degree, but continued his pattern of robberies, going to prison in 1994.

The victims of Hill's sex murders were all women in their thirties who had fallen on hard times, and were found by Hill as he trolled for prostitutes in rough neighborhoods of Pomona. All were African American, as is Hill.

Their bruised bodies later turned up in remote industrial areas or on roadsides, some with hands and feet bound, and mouths duct-taped.

Hill went so far as to call police to report having committed the murders, taunting them and hanging up before the call could be traced.

Tony Goldsmith said that one of the most painful aspects of the trial was hearing the victims disparaged as common prostitutes.

He said his wife was a medical technician and mother of three with some college education who battled an addiction to drugs that led her into Hill's sphere. "She was a loving mother and drop-dead gorgeous," he added. "She had a sickness."

The murders went unsolved for years until DNA tests in 2003 connected Hill to the crimes. DNA evidence also linked Hill to two other slayings, those of Lorna Reed in 1986 and Rhonda Jackson in 1987. But he was charged only with the six that occurred during the 10-week rampage.

Hill, who had worked odd jobs in warehouses, did not contest the murder charges. Instead, his defense attorneys focused on trying to convince jurors that Hill did not deserve the death penalty because of his troubled childhood and later accomplishments.

They detailed horrific abuse Hill suffered as a child. At one point, his father had shot his mother at close range, and though he didn't kill her, she was left bleeding on the floor in full view of her children.

The abuse and neglect Hill endured did not excuse his crimes, defense attorneys said, but could explain, at least in part, how he had descended into brutality.

Defense attorneys also presented evidence of how Hill later in life sought to mask the tumult at home by projecting confidence to the outside world. He was the defensive captain and signal caller on the Pomona High School football team.

A teacher, Dolores Rego, testified in the penalty phase that Hill was her "absolute favorite" student. Later, he spiraled into drug addiction and became compulsive, the lawyers said.

None of this seemed to sway the jury of six men and six women, who deliberated four days before returning a death-penalty verdict. Sentencing was set for March 21.

As the judge discharged the jury, Hill's mother and cousin, sitting toward the back of the room, clutched each other.

After Hill and the jurors left the courtroom and spectators began filing out, his mother remained in her seat, sobbing in the nearly empty courtroom.


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