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Man gets life in prison for raping, killing homeless girl in case that brought scrutiny to D.A.'s three-strikes policy

July 14, 2010 | 12:46 pm

A man whose murder conviction generated controversy over L.A. County District Atty. Steve Cooley’s three-strikes policy was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for raping and killing a homeless teenage girl.

Two years before the girl's murder, Gilton Beltrand Pitre had been eligible for prosecution under the state's three-strikes law when he was charged with a felony for selling $5 worth of marijuana to an undercover police officer.

His two strikes included a 1994 residential burglary and a 1996 rape.

Under the law, prosecutors could have sought a sentence of 25 years to life in prison. Instead, Pitre was allowed to plead guilty to a drug crime in exchange for a 32-month prison sentence, court records show.

Alyssa Gomez, 15, was killed June 4, 2007, four days after Pitre was released from prison.

During Cooley's campaign for attorney general earlier this year, opponents pointed to Pitre's case as evidence that Cooley's policy was soft on criminals. Under Cooley's policy, prosecutors generally do not pursue life sentences for relatively minor offenses.

Cooley has defended his position, saying justice requires that the punishment should fit the crime. His approach has won widespread support during three successful campaigns for district attorney, but it has also drawn fire from critics who say his policy fails to adequately protect society from repeat offenders.

In Gomez’s slaying, prosecutors alleged that Pitre visited the Olive Motel on Sunset Boulevard with the runaway, who had been living on the streets since she was 12. Her body, wrapped in a bedspread from the motel, was discovered the next morning in an alley behind a restaurant.

Prosecutors said Pitre had sex with the girl and then strangled her.

At Wednesday's hearing, Gomez’s sister asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy to send Pitre to prison for the rest of his life.

"Please, please never let this happen again," a tearful Elaina Novoa said. "She was a little girl. ... I'm sure he will do it again."

Actress Dyan Cannon, who knew the victim from making a documentary on street kids and runaways in Hollywood, told the judge that Gomez "had a lot of heartbreak and was a good girl."

"She wrote beautiful poetry and sang good songs," Cannon said. "I was with her three days before she was killed. I begged her to go to a place where she could receive help."

Kennedy sentenced Pitre to 75 years to life for murder, 25 years for the statutory rape of the teenager before the slaying and an additional 10 years because of his two prior serious offenses. She noted a security videotape in which Pitre is seen placing Gomez's body in the trunk of his car.

"There is no panic. There is no evidence of regret. ... She was disposed of like a piece of trash," Kennedy said. "Mr. Pitre is one of those people who is a predator."

-- Richard Winton at L.A. Superior Court