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Judge refuses to reduce death sentence for man who murdered two in South L.A.

November 20, 2009 |  1:50 pm

A judge denied a request today to reduce the death sentence for a man convicted of murdering two people and attempting to murder two others in a South Los Angeles housing project.

Defendant Kai Harris, 32, along with another man, was convicted of the 2004 killing of a rival member of his gang in a drug dispute, before turning his gun on three women who witnessed the attack in the apartment.

Two of the women survived gunshot wounds to the face, but the third, Annette Anderson, 52, considered a pillar of the community, was killed. Her death spurred an outpouring of grief in the Watts neighborhood where she lived all her life.

After the judge announced his decision today, Harris, slender and muscular, his hair in long tight braids, turned to a half-dozen relatives sitting in the back of the courtroom and stared without emotion. He eventually forced a smile. Two small children, Harris’ cousins, choked back tears. Harris’ family had ties to two of the victims.

Anderson and the man involved in the drug dispute who was killed, George Brooks, were family friends.

“You don’t know how to feel now. You love both families,” said Harris' aunt, Lavett Outlaw, who was dressed in black. “We have a great loss on both sides.”

Harris and the other defendant, Donte McDaniel, entered an apartment in the Nickerson Gardens public housing project in April 2004 looking to settle a drug dispute. One of the two surviving women, who has since died of unrelated causes, suffered bullets in her chest and face, shattering her upper jaw and palate.

The woman, Debra Johnson, a frail drug addict, later drew attention for her fearless testimony against her attackers.

“The crime scene was so bloody the coroner investigator said that she could taste a metallic taste in her mouth just from all the blood that had been spilled,” said L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. Halim Dhanidina. “She had to throw away her work clothes.”

Judge Michael Johnson called the crime “cruel and inhuman” and said the the loss to family and friends was enormous, particularly for Anderson, who was known to help those in need.

“She was the kind of person who would take in anyone who needed a place to stay or something to eat,” Dhanidina said about Anderson.

Neighbors said at the time of the murders that Anderson, a cancer survivor, would often watch over neighborhood kids.

The judge rejected the defense’s argument that Harris was intimidated by McDaniel into committing the murders. Harris is set to be executed at San Quentin State Prison.

-- Robert Faturechi