Jurors Weigh Death Penalty for Former Marine Guilty in Serial Killings

FILE - In this April 25, 1997, file photo Andrew Urdiales, walks in police custody at police headquarters in Chicago. (Dom Najolia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, File)
FILE - In this April 25, 1997, file photo Andrew Urdiales, walks in police custody at police headquarters in Chicago. (Dom Najolia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, File)

SANTA ANA -- An eight-time serial killer was driven by anger and frustration combined with childhood trauma and brain damage, his attorney on Monday told jurors who will soon weigh whether the convicted killer should receive the death penalty.

As the penalty phase in the capital murder trial of Andrew Urdiales came to an end, the 53-year-old killer's attorney argued that Urdiales feels remorse for his actions and helped bring closure to the victim's families by confessing to killing women in Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties.

Urdiales has been convicted of killing one woman in Orange County while stationed as a U.S. Marine at Camp Pendleton; four women in Riverside and San Diego counties while stationed at Twentynine Palms; and three women in Chicago while working as a security guard after leaving the military.

Urdiales' attorney, Denise Gragg, during her closing arguments Monday noted that had her client not brought up the California murders soon after being arrested for the Chicago killings, law enforcement officials would not have tied the slayings together.

"He didn't say he was crazy, he didn't say he was hallucinating, he didn't say that God made him do it," Gragg said. "He was trying to figure out why he did it, he didn't want to do it and he felt bad about doing it. Bad enough to go to therapy for years, and bad enough that when he knew he was caught for the Chicago murders to say 'call California'... that is worth something. That is worth a lot."

The same Santa Ana jury last month found Urdiales guilty of the Orange County murder of Robbin Brandley in 1986 in a Saddleback College parking lot in Mission Viejo; and over the next seven years the Riverside County killings of Julie McGhee, Tammie Erwin and Denise Maney; and the San Diego slaying of Mary Ann Wells. A Chicago jury previously convicted him of the killings of Laura Uylaki, Cassandra Corum and Lynn Huberand.

During the most recent phase of the trial, jurors also heard dramatic testimony from Jennifer Asbenson, who described in terrifying detail how she escaped from Urdiales after being kidnapped and sexually assaulted in a remote Riverside County desert.

Gragg contended that Urdiales was born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, a result of his mother's drinking during her pregnancy. His condition was worsened by a childhood marked by emotional, physical, sexual and psychological abuse, as well as teen years in which he was targeted for regular harassment, the defense attorney said.

Gragg told jurors that Urdiales was unable to connect with others, particularly women, and had "free-floating anger" that led him to "lash out."

"There are people who commit these crimes because they just enjoy it," Gragg said. "They enjoy hurting other people. That is not Mr. Urdiales."

Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy during his closing arguments dismissed what he referred to as the "sad, abused, loner narrative."

"Kind of tough to make friends when you keep killing people you could be friends with," Murphy told jurors.

Murphy described Urdiales as a "misogynistic, sadistic monster" who killed for his own pleasure. The prosecutor questioned whether Urdiales actually suffered from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, arguing that he was capable of controlling his impulse and desires.

Murphy also noted that Urdiales during one police interview told police he had no remorse for killing Brandley, an aspiring broadcaster who was stabbed 41 times.

"What weight do we put on that?" Murphy asked the jury. "How many layers of horror do we need before (death) is the appropriate penalty?"

Jurors are expected to begin deliberations on Tuesday morning as to whether Urdiales should receive the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole. ___

This article is written by Sean Emery and Kelly Puente from Orange County Register and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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