LONG BEACH, Calif. — For the second time, a man was sentenced to death today for the rape and murder of a woman whose nude body was found on a freeway embankment in Long Beach more than 14 years ago.
The sentence handed down by Long Beach Superior Court Judge Tomson T. Ong came less than 10 years after Kevin Darnell Pearson, now 36, was initially sentenced to death for the Dec. 29, 1998, slaying of Penny Keprta.
In a January 2012 ruling, the California Supreme Court unanimously threw out Pearson’s first death sentence, citing “the trial court’s improper excusal of a prospective juror because of her views on capital punishment.”
The California Supreme Court has not yet heard automatic appeals in the case of Pearson’s co-defendants, Jamelle Armstrong and Warren Hardy. The half-brothers were tried separately, convicted of first-degree murder and sentencedto death for their roles in the killing of Keprta, who was also known as Penny Sigler.
A second jury was empaneled this year to hear Pearson’s penalty phase retrial, in which jurors recommended April 15 that he be sentenced to death.
Just before pronouncing Pearson’s sentence, the judge denied an automatic motion to reduce the jury’s recommendation of a death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Ong also denied the defense’s motion for a new trial.
The judge said the “weight of the evidence supports the jury’s verdict of death,” calling Pearson an “active participant in the crime.”
Deputy District Attorney Corene Locke-Noble told the judge that she had never seen such brutality or violence in her 29 years as a prosecutor.
Keprta, a 43-year-old married mother of three, was kidnapped from a sidewalk around 11 p.m. on Dec. 29, 1998. She had been walking from her nearby home to a store to pick up food for her roommate — who was in a wheelchair — and was robbed of $6 worth of food stamps, raped and beaten to death with a wooden stake.
The attack “started out as a crime of opportunity” against a woman who was dragged into a dark area and attacked after walking alone late at night, the judge said.
The noise of the nearby San Diego (405) Freeway precluded anyone from hearing her screams during the attack, Ong said. The judge added that the 5-foot-2-inch, 110-pound woman was “outnumbered three to one” by Pearson, whowas over 6 feet tall and weighted about 180 pounds, with two companions about the same size as him.
“It was a very heinous crime ...,” the judge said, noting that testimony showed the victim had suffered 90 external wounds and two dozen internal injuries.
Keprta’s body was found by Caltrans workers — one of whom thought the body was a mannequin — on a freeway embankment on the northbound 405 near Wardlow Road and Long Beach Boulevard.
The woman’s son, Teddy, who was a teenager when his mother was killed, said there isn’t a day where he doesn’t wake up to the realization that he doesn’t have his mother with him. He said Pearson “should get the full punishment,” adding that the defendant’s death would be “quick and painless,” unlike his mother’s violent end.
Outside court, the prosecutor said, “The right result happened today.
Let’s hope it can be carried out.”