A convicted murderer whose death sentence was overturned won’t ever be free as he has been re-sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing two of his former co-workers after he didn’t get the promotion he wanted.
Sergio Dejuan Nelson, now 46, was convicted of the Oct. 22, 1993, shooting deaths of Robin Shirley, a 32-year-old mother of two young children, and Lee Thompson, 22. They were gunned down while sitting in a car outside the Target store in La Verne where they worked.
Nelson — who had resigned from his job about 1 1/2 months earlier — gunned down Shirley because she got the promotion he felt he deserved and killed Thompson because she had defended Shirley when he harassed her about the promotion, according to an August 2016 ruling from the California Supreme Court.
The state’s high court agreed that the death penalty should be reversed based on the lower court’s interference in the trial’s penalty phase, finding that interventions to resolve a jury deadlock “must be limited and undertaken with the utmost respect for the sanctity of the deliberative process.”
The first jury deadlocked in the penalty phase of Nelson’s trial, with the second jury eventually recommending a death sentence after initially reporting that it was hung on whether to recommend the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“In sum, we cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the death verdict in this case was the product of fair and impartial deliberations free from the intrusive influence of the trial court’s questions and comments. We conclude Nelson is entitled to a new penalty trial,” the California Supreme Court ruled.
Shortly after he was sworn into office last December, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón issued a directive that says a death sentence is “never an appropriate resolution in any case.”
Speaking directly to his wife’s killer on Tuesday, Robert Shirley said, “For your cowardly actions, you deserve to die. The jury agreed and you were sentenced to death. After over 20 years on death row, your death sentence was overturned on a technicality. Your sentence today to life in prison without the possibility of parole is not the sentence we hoped for. But ultimately George Gascón made that decision over our objection.”
He said that his wife was a kind person who would let Nelson put his bicycle in the back of her truck and give him a ride to and from work, sometimes stopping to pick up her children on the way home.
“You saw how much they meant to each other, yet you took her life as if it meant nothing,” Robert Shirley said, calling Nelson a “coward” whose own behavior “cost you that promotion and ultimately your job.”
The victim’s daughter Cynthia, who was 6 and her brother 10 when their mother was killed, called Nelson a “monster” and said she has “so much hate in my heart for you.” She said the defendant deserved “so much more … to be put to death” and that this is “no justice for our family.”
Thompson’s brother, Ty, said his sibling was “taken far too early due to the deliberate actions of another.”
“Though several years have passed since that fateful morning, that does not mean the severity of the punishment should change,” he said, adding the defendant “should never be released from the prison system and my family and I stand strongly by our belief that he should be maintained under his original sentencing of the death penalty.”
Kathleen Cady, a former prosecutor who now represents victims, said the victims’ families “feel abandoned by Gascón and believe his policies violate the law.”
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