A man convicted of killing four people during a 2010 series of brutal home-invasion robberies in Los Angeles and Hawthorne was sentenced Friday to four consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole, officials said.
John Wesley Ewell, 62, pleaded no contest in May to four counts of first-degree murder and four counts of first-degree residential robbery. He entered the plea as part of a deal negotiated with prosecutors, the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release.
The four victims were choked and strangled to death during three separate home invasions in fall 2010. The victims included a married couple, an 80-year-old man and a woman who lived in Ewell’s neighborhood, prosecutors said.
Even before the killings, Ewell had a lengthy criminal history that included robbery convictions but repeatedly dodged prosecution under the full weight of California’s three-strikes law, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation.
Ewell — who worked as a hairstylist in South L.A. — was already being prosecuted in a string of Home Depot thefts when he committed the home-invasion homicides, but a judge had delayed sending Ewell to prison so he could address medical issues, the Times reported.
On Sept. 24, 2010, Ewell allegedly choked and hit 80-year-old Hanna Morcos before robbing the victim’s Hawthorne home. Morcos suffered a heart attack from the assault and died, the DA’s office said.
Weeks later, on Oct. 13, prosecutors say Ewell strangled 53-year-old Denice Roberts while robbing her home on the 12600 block of Hoover Street in Harbor Gateway, close to where the defendant lived at the time.
After Ewell’s arrest, others in the neighborhood told the L.A. Times they found it hard to believe the man they knew as kindly handyman could be behind the crime. “His wife is devastated. It is a shock to everybody that knows him,” Sheila Spinks said. “He likes to talk to kids, tell them to stay out of trouble, stay on the right path.”
The last two slayings occurred the next week, on Oct. 22. Ewell killed Leamon Turnage, 69, and his 57-year-old wife Robyn Turnage — who lived a few blocks from Morcos — by strangling and hitting them during a robbery, according to prosecutors.
Ewell was arrested days later after being caught on video using Robyn Turnage’s ATM card, officials said.