SAN FERNANDO (CNS) – A prosecutor told jurors today that an ex-con fired five shots at a Los Angeles police officer after his crime partner fired the first shot during a traffic stop in Lake View Terrace just over 40 years ago, while a defense attorney countered that her client has been wrongfully accused of murder.
The six-man, six-woman jury in San Fernando is the third to hear the case against Kenneth Earl Gay, now 65, who is charged with murder for the June 2, 1983, slaying of Officer Paul Verna, a married father of two sons.
Gay’s conviction has been reversed once by the California Supreme Court and his death sentence has been reversed twice.
Deputy District Attorney David Ayvazian told jurors that Gay and his “partner in crime” Raynard Cummings had gone on a robbery spree in which they “brutalized” and “beat” some of their victims in the San Fernando Valley shortly after the two men were paroled and that they each fired at Verna during the traffic stop “40 years and four days ago.”
The prosecutor said Cummings fired the first shot at Verna from the car and that Gay emerged from the car, shot the officer three times in the back and then shot him twice more as the officer was “on the ground dying.”
“He killed a man doing his job,” Ayvazian told the panel, calling the two “desperate, violent men.”
Gay subsequently returned to collect the check-cashing card that Cummings’ wife had handed the officer when he asked for her identification and also took the officer’s gun, the deputy district attorney said.
Gay was discovered lying next to the officer’s gun in a vehicle when he and Cummings were arrested two days later in San Diego County, according to the prosecutor, who noted that four witnesses at a 1985 trial identified either Gay or a light-skinned person as the final gunman, while a boy who was 12 at the time of the shooting identified Cummings, who is Black.
One of Gay’s attorneys, Monnica Thelen, told jurors that “a tragedy occurred” when Verna “lost his life” and “was killed viciously.”
But she said the other tragedy is that Gay — who appeared in court in a wheelchair — has been wrongfully accused for 40 years.
Thelen told the panel that the evidence will show that there is “only one true killer” — Cummings — whom she alleged had made a “spontaneous decision all on his own to kill Officer Verne” because Cummings became irate at the thought that his wife could go to jail for driving the vehicle without a license.
The defense attorney said her client “did not participate in” and “had absolutely nothing to do with what happened to Officer Verna.”
She told the jury that investigators in the midst of their grief and mourning over the Los Angeles Police Department officer’s death “made judgments in this case that were incorrect.”
Prosecutors announced in January 2021 that they would not seek a death sentence again for Gay soon after the election of District Attorney George Gascón, who had issued a directive that “a sentence of death is never an appropriate resolution in any case.” But Superior Court Judge Hayden Zacky rejected a bid by the District Attorney’s Office to dismiss special circumstance allegations that could carry a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole.
The judge ruled then that it was “not in the interest of justice” to dismiss the special circumstance allegations of murder of a peace officer in the performance of his duties and murder to avoid or prevent a lawful arrest against Gay, despite a directive issued by Gascón shortly after his election that directed that special circumstance allegations resulting in a life prison term without the possibility of parole should be dismissed from any case that has already been filed and should not be filed in any new cases.
Verna’s widow and two sons spoke out in the San Fernando courtroom against the bid by the District Attorney’s Office.
The county’s top prosecutor subsequently issued a February 2022 directive in which he wrote that “there may be the rare occasion where the filing of special circumstance allegations may be necessary” and that he would form a committee to “review the appropriateness of filing such enhancements in an extremely limited number of cases where the underlying facts are extraordinary and/or the victims are uniquely vulnerable.”
Gay’s case was sent back to the San Fernando courthouse after the California Supreme Court ruled in February 2020 that he was “denied his constitutional right to the assistance of competent counsel” during the guilt phase of his trial.
Earlier, the California Supreme Court had twice overturned Gay’s death sentence.
Gay’s first death sentence in 1985 for Verna’s killing was overturned in 1998, with the California Supreme Court finding that he had not received “constitutionally adequate representation” during his first trial. A retrial was ordered for the penalty phase of his case.
When he was sentenced a second time to death in December 2000, Gay maintained he “never murdered anyone.”
“What this decision really was was an insult” to the Verna family, Gay said then, while turning to look at the LAPD motorcycle officer’s widow and two sons. “It has been 17 years and you folks still haven’t heard the truth about what happened to your loved one.”
The defendant said then that he would admit it if he were responsible for Verna’s killing and that he owed the slain officer’s family an apology for not having the courage to stand up to Cummings, who was also sentenced to death for the officer’s slaying.
Superior Court Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt — who presided over Gay’s second trial — said when he sentenced Gay in December 2000 that he didn’t think there was any question that Gay fired the final five shots at Verna.
In 2008, the California Supreme Court again overturned Gay’s death sentence, finding that Wiatt had erred by barring Gay from offering “significant mitigating evidence” during the penalty phase of his retrial, including four statements in which Cummings claimed that he was the sole shooter.
Most recently, the California Supreme Court sent the case against Gay back for retrial in the guilt phase, finding that he was “denied his constitutional right to the assistance of competent counsel” during his first trial.
Copyright 2023, City News Service, Inc.