Just a Random Female

Robbin Brandley’s confessed killer sits on death row. So why don’t her parents consider the case closed?

Because Urdiales repeatedly used the word "we" when describing the Brandley murder, his confession to Blackburn and Moreno became the centerpiece of his defense team's attempt to convince the jury he was a crazed killer who couldn't be held responsible for his crimes. His lawyers presented evidence that Urdiales had been counseled for depression at a Veteran's Administration clinic in Chicago.

"Andrew is a paranoid schizophrenic," Kathryn Lisco, Urdiales' court-appointed public defender, told the jury during her closing arguments. "Andrew has brain damage."

Lisco then launched into a biography of Urdiales that featured repeated injuries as a child, beginning as an infant, when his sister accidentally dropped him on his head. She asserted that he'd been in a car crash when he was a year old, hit his head on a cement step two years later, and then was repeatedly molested by his sister, who in turn had been abused by a family friend. "This went on for several years," she argued. "He became confused. He became ashamed. He suffered humiliation. And as he grew, this fueled his rage tremendously."

Jack and Genelle Reilley hold a portrait of their daughter, murder victim Robbin Brandley. Photo by John GIlhooley.
Jack and Genelle Reilley hold a portrait of their daughter, murder victim Robbin Brandley. Photo by John GIlhooley.

When Urdiales was a young child, his brother Alfred died in Vietnam. As a result, Lisco argued, his mother "abandoned" him, retreating into her bedroom. Urdiales was bullied throughout high school and joined the Marines to make his family proud. At first, the Marines seemed to provide the discipline and sense of belonging Urdiales lacked at home. But after he was stationed at Camp Pendleton and promoted from private to corporal, Lisco said, he began to lose his nerve—and eventually his mind.

"Andrew begins to hear things in his mind," she told the jury. "And he doesn't know exactly what they are. He begins to hear things that he interprets as messages and says that sometimes these messages are in code. . . . And Andrew begins to go on missions."

Lisco told the jury that Urdiales' first "mission" was murdering Brandley. "When he first acted on his delusions and killed Robbin Brandley, he had gone for a drive, nowhere in particular, and at some point, he believed he was on this CIA mission," she told the jury. "The instructions came to him through his receiver, and he felt that he had a test coming on, and the test was to see if he could kill without any feeling. And this was a secret mission, therefore it's conducted at night. . . . He's looking for his CIA contact. He's looking for his target of opportunity. He sees the sign for Saddleback College. . . . That's where it all started."

*     *     *

On May 23, 2002, after a six-week trial,the jury rejected Andrew Urdiales' claim of insanity and found him guilty of first-degree murder of Laura Uylaki and Lynn Huber. The verdict may have been influenced by the fact that despite being treated for depression for several years, Urdiales had never been medicated nor diagnosed with any mental illness or personality disorder.

"The evidence of his guilt is overwhelming, and the evidence of his sanity is even more so," lead prosecutor Jim McKay told the jury in his closing arguments. "He is angry, he is evil, and he is depressed, but you know what, folks? Mad, bad and sad don't equal crazy."

Although the jury sentenced Urdiales to death a week later—after hearing from a string of relatives of the victims, including Jack Reilley—then-Illinois Governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on the death penalty in 2003, automatically commuting Urdiales' sentence to life in prison. The following year, Urdiales stood trial in Livingston County for murdering Cassandra Corum. Again, he was convicted and sentenced to death. Urdiales appealed both convictions to the Illinois Supreme Court and lost. On Oct. 29 of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his federal appeal of his first conviction. He currently sits on death row at Pontiac Correctional Center, although Illinois hasn't executed an inmate since March 17, 1999.

Although the Orange County district attorney's office issued an arrest warrant for Urdiales when he confessed a decade ago, there's no chance he'll be extradited any time soon to stand trial for the five murders he committed in California. Deputy DA Howard Gundy told the Weekly his office would love to prosecute Urdiales for murdering Robbin Brandley, Mary Ann Wells, Julie McGhee, Tammie Erwin and Denise Maney, but it may be more trouble than it's worth since Urdiales' attorneys could use the extradition to delay the eventual imposition of his Illinois death sentence.

"The irony in this case is justice may better be served if we let the state of Illinois complete the process, because if we don't do that, we may cause delay and a diversion he will look forward to having," Gundy says. "He's living in a very small cell out there. He's in perfectly good hands."

Gundy adds that he sympathizes with the Reilleys' anger at the lack of progress in the case. "I understand the frustration of the parents and other people, but part of that is you can never do anything for those poor folks unless you can bring their loved ones back. That's the quandary of a prosecutor."

Valerie Prehm, the woman whom the Reilleys suspected of being involved in their daughter's murder for 11 years, now lives in Seattle. She says Brandley's murder ruined her life. "I was one of the last people to see Robin alive," she says. "We were really good friends on campus. She was an outgoing, beautiful person. Everyone loved her."

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