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Killer of 3 USC film students dies on death row

David Leslie Murtishaw, 54, died of an apparent heart attack at San Quentin State Prison. He killed 3 USC film students in the Mojave Desert in 1978.

November 24, 2011|By Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times
  • The holding cell where death row inmates are held before execution at San Quentin State Prison.
The holding cell where death row inmates are held before execution at San… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

A San Quentin inmate on death row for the 1978 murder of three USC film students was found dead in his cell, state prison officials said Wednesday.

David Leslie Murtishaw, 54, died Tuesday night of an apparent heart attack in his single-person cell, said officials with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The former Santa Fe Springs resident was convicted in the fatal shootings of film students James Lee Henderson, Martha Bernice Soto and Ingrid M. Etayo.

Lance Buflo, Soto's husband and the lone survivor of the shooting, testified at Murtishaw's 1979 trial that he and fellow students were making a film in the Mojave Desert in Kern County when Murtishaw and another man asked them for a ride after their car had broken down.

The group told the men that they could have a ride when they were finished filming in the late afternoon sunlight. The men walked away but later returned.

Without warning, Murtishaw opened fire on the group with a rifle.

Soto was struck in the head. Henderson and Etayo were each shot several times in the stomach as they tried to grab Soto and drag her to safety.

Buflo, who was wounded in the hand, ran from the scene and flagged down a passing motorist. They found a California Highway Patrol officer and alerted him to the shootings.

The officer accompanied Buflo back to California 14, but it took more than 45 minutes to find the shooting scene in the darkness.

Ballistics tests performed on two rifles found at the scene determined that only the gun belonging to Murtishaw had been fired, leading a judge to dismiss charges against Gregory Lufenberger, then 20, of Maywood.

A jury found Murtishaw guilty. He was believed to be the first defendant tried after voters approved a measure in 1978 to revive the death penalty. Murtishaw had been on California's death row at San Quentin State Prison since May 1, 1979.

Since California reinstated the death penalty, 55 condemned inmates have died from natural causes, 19 have committed suicide, 13 were executed in-state, one was executed in Missouri and six died from other causes.

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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