Crime & Justice

Prosecutor: South LA serial killer Hughes should get death

A prosecutor told a jury Monday that convicted serial killer Michael Hughes should be sentenced to death for a string of decades-old murders in South Los Angeles because he showed no mercy to his victims, including a 15-year-old girl, and no remorse for the vicious, callous crimes.

The murders of six women and a teenage girl by Hughes in the late 1980s and early 1990s were purposeful, intentional and premeditated acts that warrant the stiffest sentence California has to offer, Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman said.

"This defendant knew exactly what he was doing when he killed each of these women," Silverman said during the penalty phase of Hughes' trial. "He knows the consequences of his behavior. He just doesn't care."

Hughes, 55, already is serving a life sentence for killing four women in the 1990s. He was found guilty last month of murdering Yvonne Coleman, 15, Verna Williams, 36, and Deborah Jackson, 32, between 1986 and 1993.

Jurors will have to decide if Hughes should be given the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Defense attorney Aron Laub will present his closing argument Tuesday.

Hughes was investigated by a task force looking into the killings of as many as 90 women in South Los Angeles. Police dubbed the killer the "Southside Slayer" but later concluded at least three serial killers were stalking women during a crack cocaine epidemic that forced some women onto the streets as prostitutes in order to support their habits.

Pizza deliveryman Chester Turner was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to death for killing 10 women and a fetus in Los Angeles in the 1980s and '90s. He has been charged with four additional killings and ordered to stand trial.

In addition, investigators arrested Lonnie Franklin Jr., a South Los Angeles mechanic, last year. He has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. Prosecutors suspect Franklin shot or strangled women and girls between 1985 and 2007, dumping their bodies in alleys near his home. The victims ranged in age from 14 to 36.

DNA evidence linked Hughes to killings that authorities say were done for sexual gratification, Silverman said. Coleman was raped and like many of the other women, she was strangled.

On Monday, Silverman placed large photos of the victims on each side of the jury box. Hughes, wearing a powder blue shirt and tan pants, showed no reaction during Silverman's closing argument.

None of the experts called to testify said Hughes was insane or had any abnormal brain dysfunction, Silverman said. While Hughes may have had an abusive childhood, as the defense contends, that doesn't mitigate the severity of the crimes he committed, the prosecutor said.

"Have you heard any evidence that reduces the brutal nature of these crimes?" Silverman asked jurors. "We ask you to show the same mercy, the same compassion, he showed his victims."