TWENTYNINE PALMS — Convicted serial killer Andrew Urdiales could be tried next year for the murders of five Southern California women — including three killed while the suspect was a Marine stationed at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center here.
Charges filed Wednesday, Aug. 5 accuse Urdiales of killing five women in three Southern California counties be-tween 1986 and 1995.
Prosecutors say he stored some of the weapons he used as well as memorabilia from his victims in a Twentynine Palms storage facility.
Howard Gundy, se-nior deputy district attorney for Orange County, said Monday, Aug. 10 he will take the lead in prosecuting the five charges in Santa Ana.
“The plan is to try him for all the murders at once,” Gundy said. “The decision to do that was based upon an agreement among the district attorneys of Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties.”
If convicted, Urdiales, 45, could face the death penalty.
He already has accumulated two death sentences and one sentence of life without parole in Illinois, where he was convicted of three Chicago-area murders.
He currently sits on death row while his appeals process makes its way through courts.
It was that process that had California prosecutors postponing filing charges against their subject until now; they did not want to hamper the Illinois court system.
On Monday, Gunday said he believes the appeals process is about to reach the point when Urdiales will not have to be present in court.
“We’re just pleased that we’re able to take the next step in the prosecution without interrupting the Illinois case,” Gundy said.
Urdiales is sentenced to death, so his appeals won’t end until his life does, the prosecutor added.
He is appealing his death sentences on grounds he was improperly tried and was mentally ill at the time of the murders.
His defense team has said Urdiales was dropped on the head and abused as a child, giving him a lasting mental disorder, possibly schizophrenia.
Chicago prosecutors ar-gued he could not have been seriously mentally disabled at the time of the murders because he held responsible jobs — including being a U.S. Marine — without trouble.
‘Justice delayed is justice denied’
The charges filed Aug. 5 allege Urdiales began killing women in 1984, when he was a 19-year-old Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton.
Over the next nine years, officials allege, Urdiales took the lives of five women, shooting three of them while he was stationed in Twentynine Palms.
After he was discharged from the Marines, Urdiales returned to Illinois, his home state, but allegedly returned to California twice — once stabbing a Palm Springs woman to death and once kidnapping and sexually assaulting a former Joshua Tree woman.
“He would rent a car and go driving around looking for women to rape and/or kill,” said Jim McKay, lead prosecutor in Chicago, Ill., during a June telephone interview.
Once back in California, Urdiales would visit a storage facility in Twentynine Palms, McKay said.
“In that storage locker he kept a number of items including a machete, hockey masks, a shovel, license plates from the state of Illinois that he would put on his rented vehicles whenever he would go out there (to California), rope, a number of items. We called it his murder kit at his trial.”
Urdiales was not suspected in any of the California cases until he was arrested April 1, 1997, in Chicago. Once he was connected to the deaths of three women there, he spontaneously admitted to a California killing spree.
After his capture, three death-penalty murder trials in Illinois meant California victims had to wait even longer for Urdiales to appear in court here.
“It’s a horrible circumstance for all the families and victims involved because justice delayed is justice denied and they’ve waited a long time,” Susan Kang Schroeder, a spokeswoman for the Orange County district attorney, said in a telephone interview Friday, Aug. 7.
California deaths began in 1984
Urdiales is charged with the following murders:
• Robbin Brandley: Orange County, Jan. 18, 1986. Urdiales is accused of driving to Saddleback College from Camp Pendleton, armed with a hunting knife, with the intent to murder a random victim. Brandley, 23, of Laguna Beach, was stabbed 41 times in a parking lot.
• Julie McGhee: Riverside County, July 17, 1988. Urdiales, then stationed at the Twentynine Palms Marine base, is accused of picking up McGhee, 29, in Indian Wells, driving her to Cathedral City and there shooting her in the head.
• Maryann Wells: San Diego County, Sept. 25, 1988. Urdiales is accused of picking up Wells, 31, in San Diego, driving her to an alley, having intercourse with her, shooting her in the head and taking back $40 he paid her for sex. Investigators found a used condom at the scene containing DNA from both the victim and a suspect later identified as Urdiales.
• Tammie Erwin: Riverside County, April 16, 1989. Urdiales, still stationed at the Twentynine Palms base at the time, is accused of picking up Erwin, 20, driving her to a remote area in Palm Springs, having intercourse with her and then shooting her three times.
• Denise Maney: Riverside County, March 11, 1995. While on vacation from Illinois in the Palm Springs area, four years after being discharged from the Marines, Urdiales is accused of picking up Maney, 32, driving her to a remote desert area in Palm Springs, raping her and then stabbing her to death.
Although Urdiales pleaded not guilty to the Chicago-area murders, McKay said soon after he was arrested, Urdiales described in detail the killings in Illinois and California.
“For example, he told us what he did with the knife after he stabbed Robbin Branley,” McKay said.
“That night he was driving back to Camp Pendleton and the sentry confiscated and ultimately destroyed the knife,” McKay said. “He talked about almost getting busted when he got back to Camp Pendleton that night.”
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