Friday, December 4, 2009

Racing to hear "death"

I didn't need any more caffeine after the call.

It was 9:30 a.m., I had just parked my car at work when my boss called my cell phone:

"I need you to go to the Vista courthouse -- the verdict in the Threats case is about to be read," she said, leaving me with less than 30 minutes to grab a notebook, race down Highway 78 and immerse myself in the gruesome murder case involving a former Marine Corps sergeant and a young Vista mother.

Derlyn Ray Threats, 28, had already been convicted last month of murdering and torturing Carolyn Neville, the popular 24-year-old country club employee.

Neville's body was found with upwards of 70 stab wounds. Authorities believe she interrupted a would-be burglary at her home.

My job was to record whether the jury recommended Threats be executed, or spend the rest of his life in prison.

Eyeing my rear view mirror for cops, and the needle on my odometer as it flirted with trouble, I hustled west under a sunny December sky.

I knew the 13-mile route well having covered the crime beat the past year for the paper. I just hadn't expected this date with the justice system given that I now write about buses, roads and bridges as the paper's transportation reporter. One of our two court reporters was sick Friday, it was the day off for the other.

At a stoplight two blocks from the court complex, I lucked out finding a newspaper hawker just yards from my car. I paid $0.50 for a copy of today's paper -- I'd forgotten to take one from the office. It had a short blurb on the case -- all I needed to decipher which family had already lost a loved one and which one might lose one next.

Moments later, I had a front row seat to the verdict: It was "death."

Aside from the desperate look Threats gave his family as he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, there weren't many outward signs of emotion Friday.

This case had dragged on more than four years. Isabel Threats, the convicted man's wife, told me matter-of-factly she knew he'd be recommended for death, citing what she called an unfair trial.

The victim's husband told me in a near-monotone that his family was extremely happy with the verdict.

A judge is expected to make the death recommendation official next month.

Next Monday, it's back to buses, roads and bridges, for me.

Here's the story:

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