SAN FERNANDO (CNS) – Prosecutors announced today that they will not seek the death penalty for a man who is awaiting a retrial for the June 1983 killing of a Los Angeles police officer in Lake View Terrace, with a judge subsequently rejecting a bid by the District Attorney’s Office to dismiss allegations that could carry a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole.
Superior Court Judge Hayden Zacky ruled that it was “not in the interest of justice” to dismiss the special circumstance allegations of murder of a peace officer in the performance of his duties and murder to avoid or prevent a lawful arrest, along with gun allegations, against Kenneth Earl Gay, now 63, in connection with the June 2, 1983, slaying of Officer Paul Verna. Verna’s widow and two sons spoke out in the San Fernando courtroom against the bid by the District Attorney’s Office.
Saying that “justice has escaped our family,” the victim’s son, Ryan, told the judge it’s been nearly 38 years since his father was killed during a traffic stop and that he refuses to “sit idly by” amid a series of directives issued by Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon after he was sworn into office last month.
The victim’s widow, Sandra Jackson, said that the community had “lost a true hero” when her husband was killed and that she believed Gay “should never walk the streets” again. She urged the judge to “do the right thing” and reject the motion.
The judge subsequently rejected the prosecution’s request, based on the directive from Gascon, to file a new court document without the special circumstance allegations.
Meanwhile, in a courtroom miles away, a Pomona judge presiding over another police officer killing case also turned down a request by the District Attorney’s Office to dismiss special circumstance allegations against the defendant. Isaias De Jesus Valencia could face life in prison without the possibility of parole if he is convicted of the March 2018 shooting death of
Pomona police Officer Greggory Casillas.
The hearings marked the latest in a series in which judges have rebuffed prosecutors’ requests to drop special circumstance allegations and other enhancements as a result of Gascon’s new directives, which have come under fire from families of crime victims — some of whom are supporting a planned effort to try to recall Gascon.
The district attorney’s directives include one that advises that “a sentence of death is never an appropriate resolution in any case” and another that directs that special circumstance allegations resulting in a life prison term without the possibility of parole should be dismissed from any case that has already been filed and should not be filed in any new cases. Gay’s case was sent back to the San Fernando courthouse after the California Supreme Court ruled nearly a year ago that he was “denied his constitutional right to the assistance of competent counsel” during the guilt phase of his trial.
Earlier, the California Supreme Court had twice overturned Gay’s death sentence.
Gay’s first death sentence in 1985 for Verna’s shooting death was overturned in 1998, with the state’s highest court agreeing that he had notreceived “constitutionally adequate representation” during his first trial. A retrial was ordered for the penalty phase of his case.
When he was sentenced a second time to death in December 2000, Gay maintained he “never murdered anyone.”
“What this decision really was was an insult” to the Verna family, Gay said then, while turning to look at the LAPD motorcycle officer’s widow and two sons. “It has been 17 years and you folks still haven’t heard the truth about what happened to your loved one.”
Gay lashed out at Superior Court Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt during that hearing, contending that the judge refused to allow the defense to present evidence that he said could have cleared him, calling it “a travesty that this court would rule that the evidence of my innocence is irrelevant.” The defendant said then that he would admit it if he were responsible for Verna’s killing and that he owed the slain officer’s family an apology for not having the courage to stand up to Raynard Paul Cummings, who was also sentenced to death for the officer’s slaying.
Verna had stopped the car in which the two were riding in the San Fernando Valley, and prosecutors alleged that they killed the officer to avoid arrest for a series of robberies in the weeks preceding the traffic stop, according to the California Supreme Court’s latest ruling in the case. Wiatt — who committed suicide in February 2005 in a Santa Clarita park in the midst of a phone conversation with law enforcement officials over allegations of child abuse — said when he sentenced Gay in December 2000 that he didn’t think there was any question that Gay fired the final five shots at Verna.
In 2008, the California Supreme Court again overturned Gay’s death sentence, finding that Wiatt had erred by barring Gay from offering “significant mitigating evidence” during the penalty phase of his retrial, including four statements in which Cummings claimed that he was the sole