An ex-con was sentenced Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the shooting death of a Los Angeles Police Department officer during a traffic stop in Lake View Terrace more than 40 years ago.
Kenneth Earl Gay, 65, was convicted Aug. 25 of first-degree murder for the June 2, 1983, shooting death of Officer Paul Verna, a married father of two young sons who both eventually became police officers. Jurors also found true special-circumstance allegations of murder of a peace officer in the performance of his duties and murder to avoid or prevent a lawful arrest.
The panel could not reach a unanimous verdict on an allegation that Gay personally used a gun during the crime.
Gay had been previously convicted and sentenced to death in the case. But his conviction was reversed once by the California Supreme Court, and his death sentence was reversed twice.
Most recently, the California Supreme Court sent the case against Gay back for retrial in the guilt phase, finding that he was "denied his constitutional right to the assistance of competent counsel" during his first trial.
The L.A. County District Attorney's Office opted against seeking the death penalty in the retrial after District Attorney George Gascón was elected.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Hayden Zacky, however, rejected a bid by Gascón's office in January 2021 to dismiss the two special circumstance allegations under which Gay was sentenced Monday to life in state prison without the possibility of parole.
The judge -- who rejected the defense's motion for a new trial -- said during Monday's sentencing hearing that the pain the victim's family has suffered was "immeasurable."
Zacky noted that he has "never had a trial like this before," noting that the case has had a "tortured history" and that the "last thing I want to do is create an issue where this has to be tried again."
"I really do hope that this is the end of the road for this case," the judge said, while noting that he knew an appeal will follow.
Among those speaking during the hearing were Verna's widow, who has since remarried, their two sons and LAPD Chief Michel Moore, who said he and Verna were once partners while they were officers in the agency's Devonshire Area in the San Fernando Valley.
The police chief said Verna had made "a lasting impression on me," referring to his former partner as "a quiet giant." Moore said he has watched the slain officer's two sons go on to careers as LAPD officers.
Ryan Verna, now a retired LAPD homicide detective, said he wished he could talk about more memories of his father, but he said he doesn't have many given that he was 4 years old when his father was "executed in cold blood."
"The wake of devastation you left is immense," he said, speaking directly to Gay.
The slain officer's youngest son said he found it "repulsive that a man like this will never be executed."
Bryce Verna, who is an LAPD officer and was 9 at the time of his father's death, said there is "no end."
"There is no congratulations. It's not going to stop," he said of the latest verdict.
The officer's now-remarried widow, Sandy Jackson, described what happened as "an assassination."
She told the judge that she was in court to be "Paul's voice," describing her slain husband as a "hands-on dad and so happy to be" who looked forward to being involved with his sons in Scouting activities. She said her husband, a U.S. Air Force veteran, wanted to help people and was awarded the Medal of Valor for pulling children out of a burning building.
"We miss Paul every day of our lives," she said. "We will fight until our last breaths to have justice for him."
She said Gay has been a "menace to society" and urged the judge not to grant him any leniency.
During the trial's closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney Eric Siddall told jurors that Verna "had no idea who he was about to encounter" when he pulled over a car containing Gay, his crime partner Raynard Cummings and Cummings' wife, whom he said had "been engaged in a series of violent and brutal robberies" in the San Fernando Valley.
Verna did not know there was a gun in the vehicle that would be used for a sneak attack to kill him, but one of his last acts as an officer was to write a ticket, resulting in evidence that would eventually lead to solving his own murder, according to the prosecutor.
Siddall called the officer's killing "a brutal murder that was completely consistent" with the brutality they showed each of their victims.
Fellow prosecutor David Ayvazian told jurors that Cummings fired the first shot at Verna from the car, then Gay emerged from the car, shot the officer three times in the back and then shot him twice more as the officer was on the ground dying. It all happened shortly after the two men were paroled from prison.
One of Gay's attorneys, Monnica Thelen, told jurors in her closing argument the case was "severely lacking" and that Gay had "nothing to do with the murder," calling Cummings the "sole killer" and insisting the person who was responsible had "already been held accountable."
The defense lawyer said it was "ludicrous" to think that Cummings would turn his back after firing the first shot at Verna and pass the gun to Gay.
"They were going to hold both of these men accountable," Thelen told jurors in her closing argument.
Gay's attorney urged jurors not to allow "some brutal evidence of robberies" to inflame their passions.
Gay's first death sentence in 1985 for Verna's killing was overturned in 1998, with the California Supreme Court finding that he had not received "constitutionally adequate representation" during his first trial. A retrial was ordered for the penalty phase of his case.
When he was sentenced a second time to death in December 2000, Gay maintained he "never murdered anyone."
"What this decision really was, was an insult" to the Verna family, Gay said then, while turning to look at the LAPD motorcycle officer's widow and two sons. "It has been 17 years and you folks still haven't heard the truth about what happened to your loved one."
The defendant said then that he would admit it if he were responsible for Verna's killing and that he owed the slain officer's family an apology for not having the courage to stand up to Cummings, who was convicted of first- degree murder and sentenced to death for the officer's slaying.
Superior Court Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt, who presided over Gay's second trial, said when he sentenced Gay in December 2000 that he didn't think there was any question that Gay fired the final five shots at Verna.
In 2008, the California Supreme Court again overturned Gay's death sentence, finding that Wiatt had erred by barring Gay from offering "significant mitigating evidence" during the penalty phase of his retrial, including four statements in which Cummings claimed that he was the sole shooter.
The California Supreme Court subsequently upheld Cummings' conviction.
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