The jury deemed Ronnie Vang a liar, but it was the mere circumstance of his shooting and killing of Keith Fessler that accounted for the panel’s recommendation Wednesday that the convicted murderer be sentenced to death.
Vang’s lawyer worried last week that if the jury thought the defendant lied, it would be more likely to return the death penalty. It turned out that his execution slaying to eliminate the witness to the residential robbery was enough on its own to convince the panel that Vang’s life wasn’t worth sparing.
“That’s what we tried to focus on, the severity of the crime,” one female juror said.
Jurors returned their verdict on Vang after two days of deliberation on his penalty for the June 23, 2009, shooting death of the 44-year-old Fessler, a Kaiser Permanente technician whose hobbies included music and windsurfing.
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Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White scheduled Vang’s official sentencing date for Feb. 21.
During Vang’s monthlong trial, witnesses said the 32-year-old defendant told acquaintances he shot and killed Fessler because he didn’t want to be identified in the burglary and returned to prison. He had been released from custody four days before the murder.
Several of Fessler’s instruments, as well as his surf boards, were stolen in the burglary. Vang was later caught on a videotape selling one of the stolen guitars at a downtown pawn shop.
Vang would be the fifth murderer from Sacramento County to be sentenced to death in the past decade.
There are 746 prisoners on the state’s condemned inmate list, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. No inmates have been executed in California since 2006, amid a moratorium was imposed by former U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel in San Jose over the state’s lethal injection process.
Jurors on Dec. 4 convicted Vang and his cousin, Joson Vang, 27, of murder and six other felonies in the killing of Fessler. Joson Vang last Friday was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty in his case.
Ronnie Vang testified in the penalty phase of his trial last week and denied that he killed Fessler.
“For me, I would say that he hurt himself,” one male juror said Wednesday, in assessing Vang’s testimony and its impact on the panel’s decision. “I didn’t feel he was truthful, or remorseful,” said the juror who declined to give his name.
This juror and two otherswho also did not want their names published said they probably would have come back with a death verdict even if Ronnie Vang had not testified.
Family members of Keith Fessler who attended every day of testimony in both the guilt and penalty phases of the trial have since left town and were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
Deputy District Attorney Valerie Brown said she spoke to the family by phone after the verdict and they were “relieved the process is over.”
“We are extremely grateful to the jurors for their diligence,” Brown said in an emailed statement. “Undoubtedly, the manner in which Keith Fessler was killed in his own home, and the fact that Ronnie Vang had been released from prison only four days before the murder, had significant impact on the verdict. In the end, we feel justice was done.”
Defense attorney Pete Harned, who represented Ronnie Vang during the guilt phase, said of the death penalty verdict, “There seemed to be but a single aggravating factor, and that one was really significant – the circumstances of the death.”
Harned said he found the death verdict “disappointing, of course. But I understand.”
William White, who represented Vang in the penalty phase, declined to comment.