Twenty years after Palo Alto resident Gretchen Burford was attacked and murdered at a Mountain View ATM, the man suspected of stabbing her pleaded guilty to the crime Thursday morning -- and apologized, according to Supervising Deputy District Attorney Dana Overstreet.
Tyrone Hamel, who is 41 or 42 years old, has a long criminal history and has never expressed emotion in court before, Overstreet said.
"I'm extremely sorry. I mean this from the bottom of my heart. I can't ask for your forgiveness," Hamel said, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
"I do got a conscience. I've been feeling bad for 20 years."
Overstreet said Hamel had nothing to gain from his apology or guilty plea. He is already serving a life sentence, plus 60 years, in Texas for robberies and assaults and Thursday, the judge had little discretion over his sentence in California, Overstreet said.
"He has never shown any remorse in any of his cases. ... It was a huge surprise," Overstreet said.
"I am left with no choice but to believe it was sincere. He gets nothing out of it."
On Feb. 26, 1988, Burford, a 49-year-old attorney, drove to Wells Fargo Bank at the corner of California Avenue and El Camino Real in Mountain View. Armed with a knife, Hamel allegedly told Burford to withdraw money from the ATM.
She attempted to escape, but had been stabbed in the heart.
At the time, DNA technology was not advanced enough to track the murder to Hamel, who was arrested that year in Texas for other robberies and attacks.
But in 2005, investigators linked DNA on a blue paisley cap left in Burford's car to Hamel, an inmate in Texas.
He originally pleaded not guilty, but waived his right to a jury trial, Overstreet said.
With a guilty plea, Hamel was basically guaranteed a sentence of life without parole, Overstreet said.
Burford's family, her husband who she had married two weeks before her death, and her three adult children, asked that Hamel not receive a death sentence because Burford did not believe in capital punishment, according to Overstreet and the Mercury News.
Hamel will return to Texas and will likely never set foot in a California prison, Overstreet said.
Hamel was born in California, but had family in Texas. He has a juvenile record in California, but was living in Texas in 1988 when he attacked Burford. He was in California for a relative's funeral, Overstreet said.
Hamel has a history of robbing and assaulting women, sometimes sexually, Overstreet said.
The case stumped authorities at the time, who originally believed that one of Burford's clients had targeted her.
Burford had married Wayne Dernetz for only two weeks when she was killed. Following Burford's death, Dernetz attended law school and became a municipal attorney in southern California, according to news reports.