An Anaheim pimp prevailed in a death penalty appeal before the California Supreme Court yesterday for the 1995 burning death of a prostitute. The unanimous court ruled trial judge failed to articulate that jurors had to find that the pimp meant to kidnap his victim, as well as kill her, to warrant the death penalty, reports the Associated Press.
The victim, Kelly Gordon, was a prostitute who worked for defendant Gary Galen Brents. Gordon agreed to sell $100 in methamphetamine for him. When Gordon failed to return either the drugs or the money to Brents, he killed her.
It was a gruesome murder. Brents tried to suffocate and choke Gordon. Then he placed her in the trunk of a borrowed car, drove her to a remote location, doused Gordon and the car in gasoline, and lit the gasoline on fire. Gordon burned to death, trapped in the trunk.
Brents was charged with one count of first degree murder, one count of kidnapping, and one count of assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury. The state alleged two special circumstances with the charges: that Brents committed the murder while engaged in a kidnapping offense, and that the murder was intentional and involved the infliction of torture.
A jury convicted Brents on all of the charged crimes, and found the kidnapping special circumstance. (The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the torture special circumstance, so the trial court declared a mistrial on that allegation.) Brents was sentenced to death.
This week, the California Supreme Court affirmed Brents' convictions of first degree murder and the other charged felonies, but sided with Brents in his death penalty appeal because the trial court erroneously instructed the jury on the death sentence.
The Orange County district attorney's office is deciding how to proceed in Gary Galen Brents' case. Prosecutors could retry the issue of whether Brents killed Gordon during a kidnapping, and pursue the death penalty a second time, or they could ask a judge to resentence Brents to 75 years to life, reports the Los Angeles Times.
- People v. Brents (California Courts)
- Will Northern California Judge Kill New Lethal Injection Procedure? (FindLaw's California Case Law blog)
- Multiple Sentence Enhancements Can Fit a Single Crime (FindLaw's California Case Law blog)