Jurors handed down a death penalty recommendation today for a 42-year-old man convicted of killing two victims in Stanton to steal a car.
Hilbert Pineil Thomas will be formally sentenced on April 25.
Hewas convicted Feb. 11 of two counts of murder -- with jurors finding true special circumstance allegations of multiple murders, murder during a robbery and murder during a burglary -- for killing 49-year-old Elizabeth Palmer of Fountain Valley and 42-year-old Matthew Francis Scott of Anaheim on Feb. 2, 2009, in an office trailer of Golden Sun Homes at 12331 Beach Blvd.
Thomas, 42, of Garden Grove, was also convicted of second-degree robbery, second-degree commercial burglary and car theft.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh told jurors last week that the decision between death and life imprisonment should be "not even close" in this case.
"Do the right thing because what this man did is this," Baytieh said, pointing to a photo of the bloodied faces of the victims.
"He took these two innocent, wonderful human beings and turned them into this," Baytieh said, showing jurors a photo of the victims in the morgue.
Baytieh also held up the murder weapon as he described the "horror and terror" in the trailer when Thomas killed the victims execution-style.
"What do you think was going through their minds when he said, 'Get on your knees and face the wall,"' Baytieh said. "For the rest of their lives ... they were living in hell. And with this gun, he executed them in a cowardly way, in a most cowardly way, for a car he wanted to get away with. He wasn't going to leave any witnesses."
Denise Gragg of the Orange County Public Defender's Office argued her client should not be put to death because he is not "inhuman," but rather "too human," and committed his crimes because he was desperate.
Patricia Moore testified that her sister, who was six years older than her, was "always very mature for her age" and was a "touchstone" for the family.
Moore and her six other siblings had a difficult childhood, and soon after Palmer was married at 19, her home became a haven for the then-13-year- old Moore from their "strict" family.
"I was always closest to Beth," Moore said. "She was always there for me, more like a mother to me than a sister."
Though Palmer and her husband, Richard, struggled financially at first, she was always giving, her sister said. "Generous is too simple a word," she said. "She always went above and beyond."
Moore believes Palmer's death "accelerated" the death of their mother last April, Moore tearfully testified.
"I don't think she could bear a trial," Moore said, adding that in her mother's final days in hospice care, "she was talking to people who weren't there. She was talking to Beth."
Gragg told jurors the defendant grew up in a "dysfunctional" family with a strictly religious mother, who was not affectionate, and an alcoholic, drug-addicted father.
Thomas got married in 1997 and started a daycare business in Long Beach. Thomas looked after the older children and his wife cared for the infants, his attorneys said.
The couple had a son and daughter and were heavily involved in their church. They were considered a "model" for fellow parishioners, and Thomas was known for his knowledge of scripture, but the marriage fell apart when the defendant, who had taken to drinking heavily, confronted his wife about having an affair, which she denied, Gragg said.
Thomas' wife eventually kicked him out of the house when he attacked her, Gragg said.
Thomas tried to make a living in real estate, but could not make a sale despite tirelessly working at it, Gragg said. After he could no longer afford a car and resorted to riding on public buses, he carjacked a Mercedes-Benz in September 2006 from a dealership during a test drive, Gragg said.
The car was found quickly because it was equipped with a locator device, but Thomas was not caught, Gragg said. Things got so desperate for Thomasthat he decided to steal Palmer's vehicle, Gragg said.
The investigation of the murders went cold until Oct. 24, 2009, when an Anaheim police officer spotted the stolen 2004 Lexus GS300 in the parking lot of the El Dorado Inn in Anaheim, Baytieh said.
In the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 5, 2009, Thomas set fire to his estranged wife's van and left his slippers behind when he fled, Baytieh said. Thomas left the Lexus in the parking lot of the motel and never used it again because he feared police would connect him to the murders, Baytieh said.
Investigators linked Thomas to the crime because he left a doctored gun registration card to look like a car registration document in the stolen Lexus. The Lexus also yielded fingerprint and DNA evidence linking the defendant to the car.
--City News Service