A vicious Orange County career criminal, heroin addict, pimp and killer given a death sentence nearly 12 years ago has reason to rejoice today after the California Supreme Court reversed the punishment because a judge here botched the jury instructions.
In a 26-page ruling written by Justice Joyce Kennard, the high court determined that the superior court trial judge, John J. Ryan, "for reasons that are not clear . . . deviated" from proper jury instructions in a way that misled Gary Galen Brents' jury on a key kidnapping count.
Authorities had arrested Brents for ending a $100 methamphetamine deal with an Anaheim prostitute by beating and choking her, shoving her in the trunk of a blue Cadillac, driving to a remote location, opening the trunk, pouring gas on her, shutting the trunk, pouring gas around the vehicle and striking a fatal match.
The 26-year-old prostitute and mother of three young kids, Kelly Gordon, burnt to death inside the trunk of the vehicle in an industrial area near Lakewood in Los Angeles County.
An Orange County jury found Brents--who'd already been to prison five prior times--guilty of special circumstances murder in May 2000 and then, despite hearing that Brents had been beaten severely as a child by his stepfather, ordered the death penalty.
(Incredibly given the circumstances, the jury was unable to determine if Gordon--represented by criminal defense lawyer Gary Pohlson--had been tortured before her gruesome death.)
But the Supreme Court ruled that Ryan's botched jury instructions made it impossible to determine the jury's view on the special circumstances enhancement relating to a kidnapping charge.
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Though he no longer faces the death penalty, the 50-year-old Brents will likely never leave a California prison.
The justices noted that the defendant's trial defense did not shake the government's solid proof of his guilt as the killer in the case.
Ironically, Brents and the victim's father got into a shouting match at the Dec. 2000 sentencing hearing where the man celebrated the killer's death punishment.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly