Gassia Apkarian argues penalty phase in death penalty trial of Waymon Livingston

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SANTA ANA – The mother of a woman who was sexually assaulted and strangled shot her hand in the air and yelled "yes" Wednesday when an Orange County jury decided that a Stanton man should receive the death penalty for the 2007 murder.

"Nothing will bring my daughter back," said a teary-eyed Gabriela Sigala, the mother of murder victim Melissa Ann Gonzalez, after the verdict was announced. "But justice was served."

The jury of seven women and five men deliberated a day before finding death was a more fitting punishment for Waymon Livingston, 29, over life in prison without the possibility of parole for the Gonzalez murder, plus the rapes of three other women and an aggravated assault of another during a two-year series of crimes.

It was the second death penalty verdict in Orange County this year.

Deputy District Attorney Howard Gundy argued that Livingston is a predator who showed indifference to the pain and suffering of his victims and has shown no remorse.

Livingston, Gundy told the jury, derived pleasure from humiliating the women he attacked. "The depravity of this man ... is absolutely astounding," Gundy said.

Defense attorney Gassia Apkarian said Livingston's life had "tremendous value" and implored jurors to impose a life term without the possibility of parole, saying he was a soft-spoken and polite man who grew up in a dysfunctional home without parental guidance or direction.

"What he did with these women is out of character," Apkarian told the jury.

Livingston grew up with a mother who could not cope with raising four children on her own, his absent father never acknowledged him as his son, and he suffered from serious learning disabilities, she said.

Betty Sigala, Gonzalez's grandmother, testified: "You're not supposed to be burying your children or grandchildren. That was my baby; she didn't deserve to die in that manner."

At least one juror fought back tears as the verdict was read. Jurors rushed from the courtroom and declined to answer questions. But one juror said as he left the courtroom: "All I can tell you is that it was an easy decision ... a lot easier than we thought it would be."

Livingston was arrested by Anaheim police at his Stanton home Oct. 11, 2007, after forensic examiners at the Orange County Crime Laboratory analyzed evidence from three rapes and matched genetic material left at the crime scenes to him.

He was later linked through DNA evidence to the killing of Gonzalez, whose body was found in an Anaheim motel room Sept. 9, 2007.

Livingston looked directly at jurors Wednesday as each said they voted for the death penalty. The same jury last week convicted him of murder and the string of rapes.

Superior Court Judge Richard Toohey set a sentencing hearing for April 26.

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