An ex-con was sentenced Friday to four consecutive life prison terms without the possibility of parole for murdering four people during robberies at their homes in Hawthorne and Los Angeles within a month in 2010.
John Wesley Ewell, who could have faced a death sentence if he had gone to trial and been convicted of the slayings, pleaded no contest May 15 to:
— the Sept. 24, 2010, death of 80-year-old Hanna Morcos in his Hawthorne home;
— the Oct. 13, 2010, killing of 56-year-old Denice Roberts in her Los Angeles home; and
— the Oct. 22, 2010, slayings of 69-year-old Leamon Turnage and his 57-year-old wife, Robyn, in their Hawthorne home.
The 62-year-old defendant also pleaded no contest to four counts of residential robbery and admitted the special circumstance allegations of murder during the course of a robbery and multiple murders.
“It takes a special kind of darkness within to commit a crime of this nature, especially when the victim is elderly,” one of Morcos’ granddaughters, Diana Seif, said during Ewell’s sentencing hearing in a packed downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
Morcos’ daughter, Amany Sidrak, said her father’s legacy “became tainted by a senseless tragedy,” telling Ewell that he viewed her father as “yet another opportunity to take what didn’t belong to you.”
Leamon Turnage’s daughter, Heidi Melber, said she was in court to be a voice for her father and stepmother, who were “happily enjoying retirement at the time” and “still had so much life to live.”
She said she had to deliver the heartwrenching news to her grandmother about the killings because the woman’s hospice nurse told her that her grandmother was waiting for someone.
“When I told her, she was gone in less than 30 seconds. And you, Mr. Ewell, forced me to do that …,” she said, speaking directly to the defendant.
Roberts’ family members were in court, but chose not to speak, according to Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace.
Ewell had prior convictions for robbery in 1988 and 2005, authorities said.
He had appeared on Montel Williams’ talk show in 2006 to argue against California’s three-strikes law, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Rubino.
At the time of the killings, Ewell was free on bond while awaiting sentencing in one case involving petty theft with a prior conviction and had two other similar cases that were pending, according to the prosecutor.
Ewell was initially charged in October 2010 with murdering the Turnages, who were beaten and strangled in their ransacked home in the 4100 block of West 142nd Street.
The two — who were bound and gagged — had just returned to the Southland from a trip to Florida to visit their son and daughter-in-law for the birth of their first grandchild, sheriff’s Lt. Dave Coleman said shortly after they were killed.
Ewell was arrested after using Robyn Turnage’s missing ATM card at a Shell gas station the day after she and her husband were found dead, the prosecutor said.
He was subsequently charged in November 2010 with murdering Morcos and Roberts, the latter of whom was his neighbor.
Morcos, whose death was determined to be a homicide, suffered a heart attack as a result of the assault at his home in the 4100 block of West 137th Street, while Roberts was strangled in her home near where Ewell was living in the 12600 block of Hoover Street, authorities said.
Authorities subsequently discovered rare coins and other memorabilia that belonged to Morcos at a Los Angeles pawn shop and items belonging to the Turnages at another pawn shop, according to the prosecutor.
“I don’t know how much closure proceedings like this bring,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lisa B. Lench said before imposing the sentence, noting that she wanted to extend her sympathy to the victims’ families.
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