A man convicted of arranging the 2001 killing of his pregnant girlfriend, who was shot in her Hawthorne apartment, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"You know, to murder a lover is terrible. But to destroy the most innocent of innocents is the ultimate evil and that cannot be forgiven," Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen said shortly before sentencing Derek Paul Smyer.
The judge rejected the defense's contention that there was insufficient evidence to support Smyer's May 8 conviction for first-degree murder for the unborn boy's death and second-degree murder for the Sept. 25, 2001, killing of the baby's mother, Crystal Taylor.
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The jury — a previous panel deadlocked last year — also found true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and financial gain involving the fetus' killing and convicted him of two counts of solicitation of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit a crime.
A separate jury heard the case against co-defendant Skyler Moore, 35, who was convicted May 8 of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy with special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and multiple murders.
But jurors deadlocked 10 days later on whether to recommend a death sentence or life in prison without the possibility of parole for Moore, who's already serving a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole for an unrelated killing.
Prosecutors are due back in court June 22 to announce whether they want to proceed with a retrial in the penalty phase of Moore's case.
One of the victim's sisters, Michelle Taylor, said it gave her "great pride" to see Smyer in orange jail clothes.
"I pray that he never gets out," she told the judge. "My family was destroyed."
Another of the victim's siblings, Monica Walker, spoke directly to Smyer, telling him, "You killed my sister for nothing ... She didn't want anything from you ... What kind of monster are you?"
Deputy District Attorney Rosa Zavala called Smyer a "coward," saying he "targeted the most vulnerable people."
Prosecutors contended that Smyer arranged for Moore to commit the killing because the 27-year-old woman was pregnant with Smyer's baby and refused to have an abortion.
Smyer's attorney, Calvin Schneider III, has said he plans to file an appeal based on the court's exclusion of evidence he said pointed to another perpetrator.
"I think it's clear that somebody else committed the crime," Schneider said after the jury's verdict last month. "I'm disappointed that the jurors didn't find that there was reasonable doubt."
He told the judge that "there's no evidence that they (Smyer and Moore) even spoke that was presented in this case."
Deputy District Attorney Danette Meyers countered that the "only person who had a motive" to set the killings in motion was Smyer.
"You don't have to have a written agreement," the prosecutor said. Prosecutors told jurors that the victim's pregnancy was "the motive for the murder," and that Smyer "needed someone else to do it for him." They said the two defendants met at the basketball courts at Anderson Park in Redondo Beach.
Moore was a member of the East Coast branch of a Southern California gang and new to the area, Zavala told jurors.
"He was looking to build a reputation for himself" and offered to kill Taylor in exchange for Smyer's loyalty, Zavala said.
Moore's attorney, Richard Everett, told the jury there was "little or no evidence"that Moore knew Smyer, and "no physical evidence to tie Mr. Moore to the murder of Crystal Taylor.''
Everett said his client was in solitary confinement in state prison while serving a life term in the unrelated murder case when detectives went to interview him. Detectives told his client they could help him get better living conditions in prison if he cooperated with the investigation, and Moore was hoping to get "some of the benefits they were offering'' and gave a "false confession," he said.
"Mr. Moore did not kill Crystal Taylor," his attorney said.