A former Marine already serving a life sentence for three killings in Chicago was sentenced to death Friday for murdering five women in Southern California, beginning with a woman at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo in 1986.
One potential victim who managed to escape from the killer told the court of her “nightmares” recalling her terror.
Andrew Urdiales, 54, was convicted of the Southern California killings May 23, and the same jury recommended in June that he be put to death.
Urdiales killed five women in Orange, San Diego and Riverside counties between 1986 and 1995.
He had been sentenced to death in Chicago and Livingston County, Illinois, in two separate trials there for murdering three women, 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.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett ensured that Urdiales was sentenced to five consecutive death sentences in case any of his individual convictions were overturned or commuted by a governor.
A soft-spoken Urdiales, who admitted to being “overwhelmed” by the media presence and victim impact statements in court Friday, said he wanted to express his “sincere apologies” to jurors, the judge, prosecutors, victims’ families and his own family for having to hear the “gory” details of his crimes.
“I’m a little shaken actually, a little nervous,” Urdiales said.
To the jurors, he said, “I understand how they voted. If I were a juror on my case I would probably have done the same thing. There’s no hard feelings.”
To the victims’ families, he said, “My condolences for their loss. … That’s all I can say.”
To Jennifer Asbenson, who was attacked by Urdiales but managed to escape, he said, “I sincerely hope she’s got her life back together. I hope she can put this behind her.”
Urdiales also praised Senior Deputy District Attorneys Matt Murphy and Eric Scarbrough for being “respectful” to him and his family.
Asbenson said she has endured nearly daily “nightmares” and years of mental health issues because of her encounter with the serial killer, but she said after all of her research she came to the conclusion that to find peace she needed to forgive her one-time captor.
“I sincerely forgive you,” Asbenson said. “That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve the death penalty… I hope you can find God.”
She later told reporters that, “I forgave him for myself so I could sleep better and I could just live. It must have worked because I feel fabulous.”
Asbenson doubted Urdiales had any remorse, but said she was grateful he didn’t “say any bad, evil things like I would expect him to.”
Charles Erwin, the father of 20-year-old victim Tammie Erwin, said he nearly died in a hospital last week from sepsis, “But I knew I needed to be strong and to be here for my daughter” and the other victims.
“The defendant not only killed my daughter, he killed me inside,” Erwin said. “It tore my family apart. … This has ruined my life. It has turned my physical being to pieces.”
Erwin later told reporters, “My religion says I must forgive, so I ask God to have mercy on my soul because I cannot.”
Erwin’s wife, Linda, said in a written statement read aloud in court that Tammie’s death has left the family unable to escape the grief.
“It’s like we’re trapped in 1989,” she wrote.
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.
Jurors found true the special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and multiple murders, making Urdiales eligible for the death penalty.
Urdiales was previously convicted of killing Laura Uylaki, Cassandra Corum and Lynn Huber, who worked as prostitutes in Illinois in the mid-1990s.
During the penalty phase of trial, Urdiales’ attorney, Denise Gragg, argued 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.
But Murphy said, “This guy was not mentally ill.”
“This is someone who killed these young women because he enjoyed it… If he had any remorse he would have stopped doing it,” Murphy said.
Murphy noted that 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.”