A convicted triple murderer was found guilty Wednesday by a Santa Ana jury of five additional killings in Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties.
Jurors found Andrew Urdiales, 53, guilty of special-circumstances murder, setting up a second phase of the trial that will determine if the eight-time killer should face the death penalty or life behind bars. That second phase begins Tuesday.
Urdiales, after his arrest two decades ago for the Illinois murders, confessed to killing one woman in Orange County while stationed as a U.S. Marine at Camp Pendleton, four women in Riverside and San Diego counties while stationed at Twenty-Nine Palms, and three women in Chicago after leaving the military.
Orange County prosecutor’s described Urdiales as a misogynist who enjoyed preying on women, beginning with the 1986 killing of Robbin Brandley, whose body was discovered in a secluded Saddleback College parking lot. Brandley, 23, an aspiring broadcaster working that night as an usher at the campus, was stabbed more than 40 times.
In an interview with Orange County detectives years later, Urdiales said he was drawn to the school by the Saddleback College sign on the I-5 Freeway. He parked at a mini-mall below the college and climbed up a hill in the dark armed with a hunting knife. During the police interview, he admitted to stabbing Brandley over and over, staring into her face as he killed her.\
In the seven years following her death, Urdiales shot and killed several women with ties to prostitution and abandoned their bodies in secluded areas, prosecutors said. The body of Mary Ann Wells, 31, was found in an Industrial area in San Diego, while the bodies of Julie McGhee, 29, Tammie Erwin, 18, and Denise Maney, 32, were found in various desolate, desert parts of Riverside County.
By 1996, Urdiales had moved to Illinois, where he killed three women and dumped their bodies in rivers and lakes.
Chicago detectives investigating those killings learned that Urdiales had been pulled over in a small Indiana town with a revolver in his car, retrieved the gun a week before it was set to be destroyed, and matched the bullets in the weapon to the slayings.
Urdiales, confronted by the ballistics evidence tying his gun to the Illinois murders, told the Chicago detectives that they may want to talk to him about some people in California. He was tried and convicted of the three Illinois murders before being extradited in 2011 to stand trial in California.
Because of his Illinois conviction, Urdiales already has no chance of ever being released from prison.
More than a dozen family members and supporters of the victims, many who attended every day of the trial that lasted more than month, gathered outside the courtroom following the verdict to thank the prosecutors, Deputy District Attorneys Matt Murphy and Eric Scarbrough.
“This is a great day, it’s a great day,” said Charles Erwin, Tammie Erwin’s father. “I waited 29 years for this.”
Charles Erwin, who lives in Oklahoma, said his daughter moved to the Riverside area shortly before she was killed. He described her as “probably the happiest person you would ever see, always with a smile.”
The father said that Urdiales deserves the death penalty.
“Because of the nature of his crimes, the way he did the girls, like they were just trash to be thrown away, that is what should be done,” Charles Erwin said.
Jack Reilley, Brandley’s father, said after the verdict that he was pleased that the jurors “did the right thing.”
“To me he is just a mongrel, a dog,” Reilley said of Urdiales. “Whatever happens to him, I don’t care.”
Reilley, a Laguna Beach resident, described Brandley as “very social and outgoing,” someone who was always adept at making new acquaintances.
“She was a delight,” he said. “We were a close family.”
During the opening of the Orange County Superior Court trial, Urdiales’ attorneys didn’t deny their client’s roles in the killings, but contended that his actions were rash, as opposed to the cold and calculated slayings described by prosecutors.
Through testimony from family members and mental-health experts, the defense attorneys focused on Urdiales’ traumatic childhood in Chicago, marked by emotional, physical and psychological abuse, as well as his teenage years in Illinois, which saw him targeted for relentless harassment by his peers.
Urdiales was born with brain damage from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder – from his mother’s drinking during her pregnancy – and Tourette’s syndrome, his attorneys said. In his remarks to detectives, Urdiales seemed to dissociate himself from the killings themselves, describing them in passive terms, indicating that his mind went blank when he killed them, the attorneys told jurors.
©2018 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.