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June 7, 2004

Death verdict for child killer

From: Press-Enterprise (subscription), CA - Jun 7, 2004

DECISION: Jurors said they rejected the defense of brain damage in the trial of James Crummel.

By MIKE KATAOKA / The Press-Enterprise

RIVERSIDE - A predatory pedophile who sexually abused boys before and after he murdered Jamey Trotter in 1979 deserves to be executed, a jury decided Monday .

Jurors reached the death penalty verdict for James Lee Crummel on the third day of deliberations. Afterward, they said they rejected a defense of brain damage presented by Crummel's lawyers.

The same jury of 10 men and two women on May 18 found Crummel, 60, guilty of murdering 13-year-old Jamey. The boy was kidnapped in Costa Mesa and driven to a remote, mountainous area along the Ortega Highway near Lake Elsinore where he was sexually abused and murdered.

"I'm delighted, to say the least," Barbara Trotter Brogli, Jamey's mother, said in response to the death verdict. "At least he'll never hurt another kid."

Jamey's birthday is Saturday. "I was 39 when he disappeared and he would be 39. I find that ironic," Brogli said.

Strong evidence supported both Crummel's guilt and punishment, said juror John Gipson of Perris.

"There was overwhelming circumstantial evidence and aggravating evidence," he said.

Crummel showed no reaction as the verdict was read.

At the July 9 sentencing hearing, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Dennis McConaghy must consider the alternative punishment of life without parole but judges rarely overturn a jury's death verdict.

Jamey disappeared on the morning of April 19, 1979, after he left a motel room where he was living temporarily with his mother. Although she believed Jamey had gone to school, Jamey's best friend testified that they had planned to cut classes that day but Jamey never showed up.

Crummel, who by 1979 had served two prison terms for sexually abusing children in Missouri and Wisconsin, was living in Costa Mesa at the time.

Jamey's disappearance remained a mystery until January 1990 when Crummel himself led authorities to the boy's skeletal remains in a fire-ravaged area of the Ortega Mountains.

The trial never clarified why Crummel revealed the remains. His lawyers, who contended that someone else killed Jamey, said Crummel was hiking in the area and stumbled across the bones.

The prosecution suggested that Crummel may have come forward to divert attention from him as a suspect or because he thought there was no way to connect him to Jamey's murder since the case was so old.

Jurors said it could have been a guilty conscience that prompted Crummel to come forward.

A dental chart confirmed the identity of the bones in 1996 but there was no way to determine how the boy was murdered.

The trial established no physical evidence tying Crummel to the murder but prosecutor Bill Mitchell called on a jailhouse informant who related to the jury Crummel's confession to him.

Crummel's lawyers attempted to discredit the informant, Frankie Stepp, through extensive cross-examination.

Jurors said Stepp's testimony had little value.

Mitchell presented Crummel's record as a serial child molester and two of Crummel's victims from the 1960s testified against him during both trial phases.

When deliberations began in the guilt phase, a majority of the jury either was leaning toward not-guilty or undecided, jurors said.

The criminal history, Davis said, was arranged into a timeline that showed Crummel's predatory pattern and helped convince the jury that he murdered Jamey Trotter.

"I found that the guilt phase was the tougher of the two verdicts," Davis said.

"There were just too many coincidences that matched up," Gipson said. Among them were Crummel living in Costa Mesa in 1979 and finding the bones in 1990.

The jury included a deaf man who was assisted by a sign-language interpreter during testimony and jury deliberations. Through his interpreter, he declined to comment Monday.

Co-defense counsel Stu Sachs asked the jury to spare Crummel's life based on the testimony of three doctors who found evidence of mental impairment.

"His mental condition was there but not substantial enough," Gipson said.

The evidence of brain damage, jurors said, was contradicted by two witnesses who had known Crummel for years. They testified that he seemed to be able to plan and organize things well.

"I'm of the mind that the surest cure for his brain damage is cutting off all oxygen to him," said Jeff Trotter, the victim's brother.

Also during the penalty phase, Mitchell presented evidence that Crummel had murdered another boy in Arizona in 1967, even though Crummel's conviction in that case was reversed and he pleaded guilty to kidnapping only. That evidence, jurors said, was generally disregarded.

Juror Richard Schadt of Moreno Valley said the two-month trial was a sacrifice he was willing to make for the system to work. He previously served on a four-month fraud trial.

"I thank my company for letting me sit here to do this," said Schadt, who works for United Parcel Service and was paid while he was on jury duty.

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