A homeless man pleaded no contest Tuesday to voluntary manslaughter and was immediately sentenced to 22 years in state prison for the strangulation killings of two women whose bodies were found in Santa Monica more than a decade ago.
Edric Dashell Gross, now 54, entered his plea to the lesser charges of voluntary manslaughter, with the murder charges dismissed, as his third trial was set to begin.
Gross was initially convicted in June 2016 of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of Jacqueline Ovsak and Dana Caper by the second jury to hear the case against him, with jurors finding true the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
A state appellate court panel subsequently reversed Gross’ conviction on both murder charges, finding that the trial court judge had improperly excluded evidence that a former boyfriend of Caper’s had asked a potential defense witness to provide an alibi for him at the time of Caper’s killing. The witness had been allowed to testify in Gross’ first trial, in which jurors declared themselves deadlocked and leaning in favor of acquittal.
The appellate court panel noted in its June 2018 ruling that “there exists a reasonable probability Gross would have obtained a more favorable outcome at the second trial were it not for that error,” and that “the DNA evidence connecting Gross to Ovsak’s murder was somewhat weaker than that relating to Caper.”
Ovsak’s body was found April 5, 2001, by construction workers in an abandoned building in the 1500 block of Seventh Street, an area the 42-year-old woman was known to frequent. She was naked from the waist down except for a pair of socks and a telephone cord was wrapped around her neck. There was no indication of injury from a sexual assault, according to the court’s summary.
Gross’ DNA was found on her body and a T-shirt at the scene.
Caper’s body was found Oct. 29, 2002, on the side of the bluffs in the 800 block of Palisades Park. The 41-year-old woman lived along the bluffs, Santa Monica police said. She had been strangled by hand and was also naked from the waist down with no evidence of a sexual assault.
Gross’ DNA was found under her fingernails and on her body.
Both women were wearing multiple shirts or sweatshirts.
Police said DNA evidence and new leads helped identify Gross and link him to both killings when new investigations were launched in September 2007.
Deputy District Attorney Keri Modder cited numerous similarities between the killings, noting that both women were homeless and were manually strangled in crimes that occurred about 1 1/2 miles apart.
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