10 Recent or Looming OC Death Penalty Cases

Former Govs. Gray Davis, Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian attended a news conference in LA last week to support putting an initiative before voters in November that would end lengthy delays in California executions. Death-penalty opponents say the proposal to shorten the length of the appeals process and require death-row inmates to share cells with other inmates is deeply flawed and will only increase litigation and costs. But the whole idea got us to wondering who might be in line to die from Orange County.


Turns out there are currently around 60 inmates who have been sent to death row by Orange County judges and are still among the living, which are far too many to list here. So, instead, we present 10 recent or looming Orange County death penalty cases.

1) Hilbert Pineil Thomas

A jury in Santa Ana earlier this month found the Garden Grove 42-year-old guilty of the execution-style fatal shootings of salesman Matthew Francis Scott and longtime secretary Elizabeth Ann Palmer in their Golden Sun Homes business office in Stanton the morning of Feb. 2, 2009. Thomas apparently wanted Palmer's Lexus for his fledgling real estate sales career. The death penalty phase of the trial in scheduled to begin today in Orange County Superior Court Judge William Froeberg's courtroom.

2) Jason Michael Balcom

Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno earlier this month upheld a jury's death penalty recommendation for 43-year-old Balcom, who raped and fatally stabbed a pregnant newlywed in her Costa Mesa apartment 25 years ago. He was serving a 50-year prison sentence in Michigan for another rape when he was linked by DNA to the July 18, 1988, slaying of Malinda Gibbons. A previous jury in Santa Ana deadlocked when it came to death for Balcom, leading to a re-trial in Briseno's courtroom last year that also had a jury recommending the ultimate punishment.

3) Scott Evans DeKraai

A pre-trial hearing is scheduled Feb. 28 and a jury trial is currently slated to begin March 24 for the Huntington Beach 45-year-old accused of being the worst mass killer in Orange County history. At Salon Meritage in Seal Beach on Oct. 12, 2011, DeKraai allegedly killed (and supposedly confessed to killing) his ex-wife Michelle Marie Fournier, 48, Los Alamitos; and Victoria Ann Buzzo, 54, Laguna Beach; Laura Lee Elody, 46, Huntington Beach; Randy Lee Fannin, 62, Murrieta; Michele Daschbach Fast, 47, Seal Beach; Lucia Bernice Kondas, 65, Huntington Beach; Christy Lynn Wilson, 47, Lakewood; and David Caouette, 64, Seal Beach. Harriet Stretz, 73, Los Alamitos, survived being shot but she lost her daughter, salon employee Elody, who was doing her mother's hair.
4) Pasqual Raul Loera

Trial is scheduled to begin March 3 for the Redlands 35-year-old who allegedly went to the Westminster home of Julie Palasco and Dennis Koire on Valentine's Day 2010 under the false pretense of buying an Infiniti sedan that the victims had listed for sale with AutoTrader. The unemployed Navy deserter is accused of shooting and murdering 48-year-old Palasko and shooting and critically injuring 49-year-old Koire before stealing the Infiniti. Koire remained in a coma for 13 months before dying in March 2011. That October, the DA's office announced it would seek the death penalty for Loera.

5) Daniel Patrick Wozniak

A pre-trial hearing is scheduled March 7 and a jury trial is scheduled to begin seven days later for the community theater actor who is accused of murdering his neighbor, Samuel Herr, in 2010 after luring the 26-year-old Army veteran to the theater on the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, where Herr was dismembered. Wozniak is then alleged to have used Herr's cell phone to text 23-year-old Juri “Julie” Kibuishi of Irvine, luring her to Herr's Costa Mesa apartment where she was fatally shot in what investigators claim was an attempt to make it appear Herr did it and then fled the area.

6) Andrew Urdiales

The 49-year-old received the death penalty in Illinois in 2002 for murdering two women, but then-Gov. George Ryan later commuted that to a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Urdiales again got the death penalty in 2004 for the murder of his third Illinois woman, but that was also commuted to life without parole by a 2011 Illinois law that abolished the death penalty. He has a pre-trial hearing scheduled April 18 for the murders of five women between 1986 and 1995 in Orange, Riverside, and San Diego counties. Among those is the 1986 slaying of Saddleback College student Robbin Brandley.

7) Anthony Darnell Wade

Superior Court Judge James Stotler in November accepted a Santa Ana jury's recommendation for death for the 28-year-old drifter who tried to plead insanity for raping, torturing and killing beloved Anaheim widow Elizabeth “Bessie” Mae Whyman. After the brutal attack, Wade took Whyman's purse and automobile to San Bernardino, where he was captured after trying to use her stolen credit cards.
8) Waymon Livingston

Superior Court Judge Richard Toohey in April 2013 affirmed the jury's recommendation of death for 30-year-old Livingston, who raped and strangled Melissa Ann Gonzalez of Sacramento in an Anaheim motel room in September 2007. He was also linked to four rapes and one assault of women, usually at motels, between 2005 and 2007. He was also done in by DNA evidence.

9) Iftekhar Murtaza

A jury in Santa Ana recommended death in December for the sicko who wiped out a young Anaheim Hills woman and her father because daddy did not want the Van Nuys 29-year-old dating his other daughter. The bodies of the father, Jayprakash Dhanak, and his daughter, Karishma Dhanak, were set on fire after they were violently attacked in a May 21, 2007, home invasion where the family matriarch, Leela Dhanak, was left for dead. (She survived.) Murtaza had it in his head that his ex-girlfriend Shayona Dhanak would return to his arms in her grief. Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals is expected to sentence Murtaza on April 18.

10) Richard Raymond Ramirez

Not to be confused with the “Night Stalker” serial killer, this Richard Ramirez has been convicted by juries three times for raping and murdering Kimberly Gonzales by beating her with a beer bottle and stabbing her in an alley behind a Garden Grove bar in 1983. Three times, juries have deadlocked on whether Ramirez should receive the death penalty, the last time in June 2013. Prosecutors are scheduled to seek a death sentence in Superior Court Judge William Froeberg's courtroom in March.

Our honorary No. 11 would be the death-penalty case that got away. Discharged Marine Itzcoatl Ocampo was accused of the serial murders of a mother and son in Yorba Linda and the unprovoked stabbing deaths of four homeless men in north Orange County in 2011 and 2012. His trial was set to start May 20, but Orange County Jail authorities say he killed himself by eating Ajax last November.

Email: mc****@oc******.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!

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