Jury recommends death penalty for ex-marine who killed 5 SoCal women

An Orange County jury recommended the death penalty Wednesday for a former Marine who killed five women in Southern California and is already serving a life prison term in Illinois for three murders in Chicago.

Andrew Urdiales, 53, was convicted of the Southern California killings May 23. The same jury deliberated for about a day before recommending that he be put to death for each of the five murders.

Sentencing was set for Aug. 31.

Urdiales killed five women in Orange, San Diego and Riverside counties between 1986 and 1995.

He had been sentenced to death in Chicago for murdering three women there, but when the death penalty was abolished in Illinois he was re-sentenced to life without parole. He was brought to Orange County in 2011 to be tried for the five murders in the Southland.

Jennifer Asbenson, who managed to get away from Urdiales, embraced two of Urdiales' siblings following the verdicts.

"I told her I was sorry for this whole situation, sorry they have to go through all of this,'' Asbenson said she told one of Urdiales' sisters.

When the verdicts were announced in court, Asbenson said she felt "really relieved, like a huge weight was taken off of me.''

She recalled that as Urdiales was strangling her, ``I imagined this day,'' and the verdicts, ``Made me feel safer.''

Asbenson said she was glad Urdiales will be sent to death row because life in prison without the possibility of parole would have given him ``hope, and he doesn't deserve hope. He deserves the death penalty.''

Asbenson said she has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, but she has taken self-defense classes and realized eventually that, ``I fought for my life to live my life. I'm not afraid anymore.''

She revealed that she saw news reports of 23-year-old Robbin Brandley's death and how saddened she was by it and, ``A year later I was grabbed by the same guy.''

Asbenson said she got a burst of ``superhuman strength'' to burst the twine Urdiales had used to bind her in the trunk of his car after she prayed for help. With her hands free she was able to get away eventually.

Brandley's father, Jack Reilley, said as he held hands with the relatives of other victims in court Wednesday that he ``felt a lot of pissed-off emotion.''

Reilley said he was unsurprised by the verdict because prosecutors had put on a strong case.

Urdiales is ``like a mad dog, who needs to be put down,'' Reilley said. ``He's non-human. That's what he is to me.''

Steve Wells, the son of victim Maryann Wells, said his mother had a ``heart of gold,'' and that she was a ``good woman caught up in a bad situation at the end of her life.''

Wells said he also felt ``an enormous weight lifted off of my shoulders.''

He criticized Urdiales for ``showing no remorse'' during the proceedings.

Charles Erwin, the father of victim Tammie Erwin, also felt a ``large weight off my shoulders'' as the verdicts were pronounced.

``We won, it's a good thing,'' he said. ``At this point this morning I didn't care which verdict he got because he's never going to hurt anyone again.''

Urdiales' attorney, Denise Gragg, argued Monday that brain scans and psychological tests showed her client had symptoms of partial fetal alcohol syndrome. The killer's mother was a steady drinker and imbibed when she was pregnant with Urdiales, she said.

That brain damage combined with a childhood of traumatic events left him with trouble managing his anger and emotions, she said. The U.S. Marine Corps veteran performed well in the structured environment of the military, she argued, but did poorly in less-stable conditions.

Urdiales told investigators that he got into spats with many of the women before he snapped and killed them. Gragg said he would dissociate at times so that he wouldn't even be present consciously during the murders.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy told reporters, ``This guy was not mentally ill.''

The prosecutor added, ``This is someone who killed these young women because he enjoyed it... If he had any remorse he would have stopped doing it.''

Murphy noted how Urdiales had an outburst during one stage of the trial when one of his sisters testified she had been molested, but was emotionless through the horrific testimony regarding the sexual assaults and murders of his victims.

``He absolutely had no remorse,'' Murphy said. ``He's a disgrace to the United States Marine Corps.''

Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who is Reilley's attorney and is running for district attorney, criticized prosecutors for taking so long to bring the case to trial. Spitzer told City News Service that he did not blame Murphy and co-prosecutor Eric Scarbrough, but the Orange County District Attorney's Office in general.

Murphy said the case represented ``how it should work'' when multiple law enforcement agencies must converge to prosecute one defendant.

Two other prosecutors were assigned to the case before it was given to Murphy. One of the prosecutors was promoted and another was elected judge. Also, Urdiales' original attorney had to retire for medical reasons, so his new team had to start from scratch, and there were other delays due to the judge's

Urdiales was convicted of killing:

-- 23-year-old Robbin Brandley, who was attacked 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.

Urdiales was previously convicted of killing Laura Uylaki, Cassandra Corum and Lynn Huber, who worked as prostitutes in Illinois in the mid-1990s.

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