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South L.A. serial killer gets death sentence

June 23, 2012|Melissa Leu
  • Michael Hughes was sentenced to death for killing a 15-year-old girl and two women.
Michael Hughes was sentenced to death for killing a 15-year-old girl and… (Nick Ut / Associated Press )

As the judge handed down the death sentence for convicted murderer Michael Hughes, the room murmured in agreement. Heads nodded and a few people even smiled.

The 56-year-old South Los Angeles serial rapist and murderer was sentenced to death Friday for killing three women between 1986 and 1993.

Adell McKinley had been waiting four years for this day.

"It brings some closure in the fact that my sister has been vindicated and justice has been served," said McKinley, who was notified by detectives four years ago that they had linked the death of her sister, Deborah Jackson, to Hughes.

Hughes was convicted in November of first-degree murder in the slayings of Jackson, 32; Yvonne Coleman, 15; and Verna Williams, 36. A month later, a jury ordered that he be sentenced to death. He was already serving a term of life in prison without the possibility of parole for four other killings.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, June 27, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Serial killer: An article in the June 23 LATExtra section about a judge handing down the death sentence for convicted serial killer Michael Hughes said that Hughes was acquitted in the slaying of Deanna Wilson. Although he was charged with her murder, he has never been tried in connection with her death.

A student at Morningside High School in Inglewood, Coleman was found dead in a city park after leaving her home and heading to the San Fernando Valley in January 1986. Williams was found four months later, strangled at the 68th Street School in South L.A. Jackson, also known as Harriet McKinley, was found in 1993 in a trash bin behind a paint store in Mid-City. Although charged, Hughes was acquitted in the slaying of Deanna Wilson, 30, in 1993.

All of the women's bodies were found in public places, at least half-naked and posed in an explicit manner. L.A. County Superior Court Judge Curtis B. Rappe said these acts "show[ed] an intent to shock the public."

At the sentencing, Rappe rejected an automatic motion to reduce the sentence to life without the possibility of parole, citing later that the "aggravating evidence substantially outweighs the mitigating evidence."

Hughes is "nothing short of a sadistic sexual predator.... [We're] looking at a man that is a serial killer," Deputy Dist. Atty. Beth Silverman said in opening arguments.

Defense attorney Aron Laub argued that early life circumstances should be taken into account when considering punishment. Hughes was beaten as a child and witnessed his mother perform a forced abortion on his sister.

Several victims' family members who arrived in the morning at the downtown courtroom said Hughes had to take responsibility for his actions.

"I'm not a serial killer," said McKinley, who said she was sexually molested until she turned 12. "That's his choice."

"Everyone in here has been through something as a child," said Jackie McFarlin, mother of one of the victims in the earlier case, Theresa Ballard.

At the time of his conviction in the current case, Hughes was already in prison for killing Ballard, 26; Brenda Bradley, 38; Terri Myles, 33; and Jamie Harrington, 29. At the time the slayings took place in the 1980s and '90s, Los Angeles was facing a rash of violence, with at least five serial killers active in the South L.A. area, authorities said.

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melissa.leu@latimes.com

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