A man was sentenced Monday to life in prison, with the chance for parole, for fatally stabbing a young mother of two in her South Los Angeles apartment more than four decades ago.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Douglas Sortino handed down the sentence for Kenneth Ray Matthews, 61, who was convicted last month of first-degree murder for the Dec. 6, 1977, killing of Leona Davis, who was stabbed once in the throat.
“It’s a tragedy. Justice was delayed for a long time,” Deputy District Attorney Michele Hanisee told City News Service. “Diligent police work solved the case 40 years later.”
If tried in 1977, the defendant could have been sentenced to death, but subsequent changes in state law meant the crime could only carry a life sentence with the possibility of parole, Hanisee said. As a result, Matthews will be eligible for parole in roughly 5 1/2 years.
The victim’s family live out of state and flew in to attend the trial, but were not in the courtroom for sentencing. However, the prosecutor said she believed they had some sense of closure.
“I think they were relieved finally that someone was held to answer,” she said. “It has affected their whole lives.”
Jurors — who deliberated about three hours in December before reaching a guilty verdict — found true the special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of an attempted rape, but rejected a special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of a robbery or attempted robbery.
The 25-year-old victim was attacked at her home in the 8700 block of Menlo Avenue just after putting her two young sons — then ages 4 and 7 — to bed.
Her apartment was ransacked, with drawers pulled out and piled on top of Davis, who was nude except for a red nightgown that was pulled up over her head, Deputy District Attorney Michele Hanisee told jurors.
Three fingerprints found in the apartment, along with DNA evidence collected from the victim, linked Matthews to the crime, the prosecutor told the six-man, six-woman panel, noting that Matthews adamantly denied knowing the victim when he was questioned by police.
The prosecutor said most of the physical evidence that had been booked from the scene of the crime had subsequently been destroyed, but urged the panel to “look at the evidence we have.”
A small personal phone book found at the crime scene contained a small piece of paper with the words “Kenneths sister” and a phone number that was eventually determined to belong to Matthews’ sister, the prosecutor said.
Matthews’ attorney, Hui Kim, argued that the prosecution hadn’t proven the case.
“The evidence is a partial DNA profile,” the defense attorney told jurors, noting that one in 10 million randomly selected, unrelated African-American people can be included in that profile.
“That’s not beyond reasonable doubt,” Kim said.
Matthews’ lawyer told jurors that fingerprint examination is “not a science,” adding that fingerprints were also found at the scene that did not belong to her client.
Matthews — who was 18 at the time of the crime — was arrested in April 2018 by detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Robbery-Homicide Division and has remained jailed without bail since then.
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