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Jury Recommends Death Sentence For Convicted Serial Killer

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A jury recommended Tuesday that a man be sentenced to death for strangling a 15-year-old girl and two women between 1986 and 1993.

The Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated less than an hour before recommending the death penalty for Michael Hughes, 55, who is already serving a life prison term without the possibility of parole for his earlier conviction in four other murders.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Curtis B. Rappe is set to formally sentence Hughes on March 29.

“It’s definitely rewarding because it’s been a lot of years of work by an incredible team of people,” Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman said after the jury returned its verdict. “I think it gives me a sense that I was able to give something back to the families.”

Defense attorney Aron Laub declined to comment.

Outside court, jury forewoman C.J. Johnson of Los Angeles said, “We just thought the crimes were so egregious we couldn’t give the minimum time (life in prison without the possibility of parole).”

On Nov. 3, the panel convicted Hughes of first-degree murder for the slayings of Yvonne Coleman, 15, Verna Williams, 36, and Deborah Jackson, 32, between 1986 and 1993.

Hughes was linked to the crimes through DNA samples from sexual assault kits. Detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Robbery-Homicide Division were investigating unsolved murders between 1960 and 1997 when they got the DNA “hits.”

He was previously convicted in 1998 of the September 1992 killing of Theresa Ballard, the October 1992 slaying of the late Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley’s niece, Brenda Bradley, and the November 1993 murders of Terri Myles and Jamie Harrington.

Hughes was serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for those crimes when he was charged in June 2008. He also is suspected in an eighth killing.

In her closing argument Monday, the prosecutor called him a “psychopathic, sadistic” killer who “deserves to pay the ultimate penalty.”

“Nothing that happened to the defendant as a child could justify what he’s done … This is a defendant who takes joy in inflicting pain on women,” the prosecutor said.

Silverman told jurors that Hughes “embarked on a reign of terror” and took “joy in inflicting pain on women.”

Laub countered that the defendant’s mother was 15 when he was born, suffered psychiatric problems after the deaths of two of her younger children and repeatedly beat him in attacks that sometimes began after he was awoken from bed.

“It wasn’t one beating with an extension cord … It was a mother screaming that she was going to kill them,” the defense lawyer said in his closing argument. “She would tell her children that she hated them.”

Hughes suffered “12 years of endless violence” and did not have any hope or sense of stability, his attorney said of his client’s upbringing.

“That’s not a childhood. That’s a laboratory for destruction,” the defense attorney said.

Laub noted that the defense did not vigorously contest the trial’s guilt phase because “the evidence was so compelling as to guilt,” but said that he had to “honestly and passionately” present a defense in favor of a life sentence.

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