Man sentenced to life prison term for role in woman’s killing in Long Beach

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One of three men who had been on death row for the December 1998 rape and beating death of a mother of three attacked while walking to a store in Long Beach was re-sentenced Tuesday, March 30 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Superior Court Judge Laura Laesecke said the maximum possible sentence was “warranted” against Jamelle Edward Armstrong, noting that she felt that the 41-year-old defendant had already benefited from a directive issued by newly elected Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon under which prosecutors opted not to seek the death penalty again.

Gascon’s directive — issued shortly after he was sworn into office last December — advises that “a sentence of death is never an appropriate resolution in any case.” The county’s top prosecutor has said he has a “mandate from the public.”

Armstrong was sentenced to death in 2004 after being tried separately from his older half-brother, Warren Justin Hardy, and defendant Kevin Pearson, who remain on death row for the Dec. 29, 1998, sexual assault, robbery, torture and slaying of 43-year-old Penny Sigler, also known as Penny Keprta.

The California Supreme Court reversed Armstrong’s death sentence in a February 2019 ruling, finding that the trial court erroneously excluded at least four prospective jurors because they were judged — based on a hypothetical set of facts — to be unequally willing “to impose death on an aider and abettor as on an actual killer, rather than on whether they could follow the law and consider death as an option.”

The Supreme Court majority affirmed Armstrong’s conviction, with the three other justices dissenting.

Writing for the minority, Associate Justice Goodwin Liu argued that the case had “definite racial overtones” that “raise heightened concerns about whether the prosecutor’s challenge was racially motivated.” The victim was white and Armstrong is Black.

“The record here contains a number of proffered explanations for the strike of a Black juror that are implausible, misleading, contradicted by the record, or difficult to credit in light of the prosecutor’s disparate treatment of similarly situated jurors,” Liu wrote in a dissent joined by two other justices.

Hardy’s conviction and death sentence were upheld in a May 2018 ruling by the California Supreme Court, while Pearson’s automatic appeal is still pending.

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