An ex-Marine was convicted on five counts of first-degree murder Wednesday in the slayings of five Southern California women, serial killings that began with the fatal stabbing of a college student and continued for a decade.
Andrew Urdiales, 53, faces the death penalty after his conviction on charges that included a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait. The penalty phase begins Tuesday.
He was earlier sentenced to death in Illinois for the murders of three prostitutes there, but he was re-sentenced to life in prison after capital punishment was outlawed in Illinois.
The Illinois triple-murder case brought him to the attention of investigators looking into the Southern California cases. Urdiales was arrested in 1997 on suspicion of killing an Orange County woman when he was a Marine at Camp Pendleton. He also is accused of killing four other women, in Riverside and San Diego counties, when he was stationed at Twenty-Nine Palms.
Urdiales' attorneys claimed that childhood trauma and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder left him incapable of controlling his anger, meaning that Urdiales did not plan the murders before committing them. Instead, they argued for implied malice, which would lead to a second-degree murder conviction, which would make him ineligible for the death penalty.
Jurors began deliberating about 4 p.m. Thursday, but then got off to a late start Monday when a panelist had to be replaced. The jury began again at 11 a.m. Monday and reached verdicts about 3:30 Tuesday afternoon.
The former U.S. Marine is accused of killing:
- 23-year-old Robbin Brandley as she walked to her car following a concert on Jan. 18, 1986, at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo;
- 29-year-old Julie McGhee on July 17, 1988, in Cathedral City;
- 31-year-old Maryann Wells on Sept. 25, 1988, in San Diego;
- 20-year-old Tammie Erwin on April 16, 1989, in Palm Springs; and
- 32-year-old Denise Maney on March 11, 1995, in Palm Springs.
The California serial killings from 1986 to 1995 began with an attack on a Saddleback College student, according to investigators. The body of Robbin Brandley was found in a school parking lot, stabbed 41 times. She had been working earlier than night as an usher at a campus event.
"I have so many beautiful memories of Robbin and for many years the horribleness of how she died crept into my life and everybody who loved her," Maria Forrest, the victim's friend, said.
The case went cold for years, during which the bodies of several women with ties to prostitution were found in remote and secluded parts of Riverside and San Diego counties. A break came in 1996 when Chicago police investigating the deaths of three women in Illinois learned that a man later identified as Urdiales had been pulled over with a revolver in his car in Indiana.
That revolver was matched to bullets found in the bodies of the three victims in Illinois.
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It was Urdiales who then told Chicago detectives that they also might want to ask him about people in California, Orange County prosecutors said in opening statements. He subsequently spoke with Orange County investigators, and he was charged in 1997 in connection with the California slayings.
Authorities say in that 19997 confession, he gave them graphic details of a case only the killer would know, shocking family and friends. Authorities said he recounted Brandley wore, how she dropped her keys, and even the color of her purse.
Urdiales was extradited to California following trials in Illinois.