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Man convicted in wife's contract killing is sentenced to death

James Fayed, found guilty of hiring men to kill his estranged wife in a Century City parking garage in 2008, gets the death penalty, with the judge calling him "one cold, calculating human being."

November 18, 2011|By Jack Dolan, Los Angeles Times
  • James Fayed, center, on Thursday hears his sentence: the death penalty. He was convicted earlier this year in the contract killing of his wife, Pamela Fayed, in a Century City parking garage in 2008.
James Fayed, center, on Thursday hears his sentence: the death penalty.… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

As hired killers slit Pamela Fayed's throat in a Century City parking garage, her "bloodcurdling" screams echoed throughout the structure. Bystanders turned their heads in the direction of the horrific attack, footage from security cameras shows.

The only person within earshot who didn't react was the victim's estranged husband who was sitting on a nearby bench "texting on his cellphone, like he doesn't have a care in the world," Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy said Thursday, moments before sentencing James Fayed to death for the contract killing.

Earlier this year, a jury found Fayed, 48, guilty of hiring three men to kill his wife during a bitter divorce. The millionaire businessman wanted to avoid sharing the profits from their international precious metals trading company, prosecutors said, and to prevent her from cooperating with a federal investigation of alleged financial wrongdoing at the firm, Goldfinger Inc.

"This is one cold, calculating human being," Kennedy said.

Shortly after the July 28, 2008, slaying, investigators arrested Fayed on fraud charges. Then a jailhouse informant secretly recorded him discussing his hatred for his late wife and the possibility of hiring a Mafia hit man to execute the men he had hired to kill her.

Fayed can be heard on the audiotape explaining the need to "clean up the … mess" because he didn't want to wind up in the "death chamber" himself.

He also complained about the killers' incompetence, noting that they had missed repeated opportunities he had arranged for them to do the job in remote places with no cameras — including at a Fourth of July party in Malibu.

Instead, they attacked in a well-lighted public parking garage, and had been caught on camera fleeing the scene in a car rented by the couple's firm.

In addition to the death penalty for first-degree murder, Kennedy sentenced Fayed to 25 years to life for the related charge of conspiracy to commit murder.

"I have never, in all my years, had a case like this," Kennedy said, accusing Fayed of arranging anonymous emails, phone calls and letters to the court alleging misconduct by the jurors in an effort to cause a mistrial.

Kennedy said she had no proof that Fayed was behind the communications, but said that a defendant willing to pay someone to kill his wife would also be willing to pay someone to try to subvert the jury.

Fayed, a portly man with slicked-back graying hair, sat nearly motionless in his orange jail jumpsuit as Kennedy described his crimes and the punishment she planned to impose. He spoke once, grunting "yeah" when she asked if he would waive his right to attend a future hearing to discuss financial restitution.

Arguing for a new trial, Fayed's attorney, Mark Werksman, repeated a claim made during the original trial, that one of James Fayed's sisters had been the real "quarterback" and "orchestrator" of the plot to murder Pamela Fayed. But Kennedy, like the jury, found that responsibility rested with James Fayed.

Trying to reduce the sentence, Werksman argued that Fayed had tried to cancel the murder contract. On the jailhouse tape he can be heard describing how he asked for his $25,000 back after the would-be killers — an employee from the couple's Moorpark ranch and two associates — had blown their previous opportunities.

But Kennedy said she saw "no evidence at all" that he had actually withdrawn from the conspiracy.

The killers struck just after the couple had left a meeting with their lawyers about the federal probe into their business, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Eric Harmon.

"Mr. Fayed was with Pamela Fayed minutes before she was killed and he did nothing to warn her, protect her … to call off the dogs," Kennedy said.

In a final effort to stave off the ultimate punishment, another of Fayed's lawyers, Steve Meister, argued the futility of imposing a death sentence in California, where condemned inmates live for decades and many die of natural causes.

"There is one way to defeat the grim reaper at his own game, and that is to send someone to California's death row," Meister said. Ordering a penalty that may never be carried out would simply extend the suffering of the victim's family, he added.

But with Fayed alive, his penchant for contract killing makes it hard for surviving family members to find complete peace, Pamela Fayed's brother, Scott Goudie, said.

When he is out in public, Goudie said, he sometimes wonders, "what is [Fayed] capable of doing and how far can he reach?"

jack.dolan@latimes.com

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