Tyrone Maurice Hamel, the convict who last month confessed and pleaded guilty to the 1988 stabbing death of Palo Alto attorney Gretchen Burford, 49, received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole this morning.
In a Santa Clara County courtroom this morning, Hamel sat with his back to Burford's family and friends. Not a muscle twitched -- from his shaved head and broad shoulders down to his back -- while his victim's two daughters described the impact his actions have had on their lives in the two decades since he killed their mother at a Mountain View ATM.
But at the end, Hamel turned to face the family, tripping over the word "humanity" as he spoke. From his lips, the word repeatedly came out "hoo-man-in-ity." It is a word he had little experience with, he said.
"I ain't got no written statement. I don't really understand how somebody could show so much compassion. I'm just all shook up," he said.
"I don't know if y'all believe me or not, but I'm crying a river of tears inside. ... I just want to be a more productive human being in my life. I do feel pain inside -- the most extreme pain," he said, causing one of his defense attorneys to cry.
Dana Overstreet, supervising deputy district attorney, said outside the courtroom that in her years as a prosecutor, she had never had anything happen such as Hamel's January confession and apology after a 20-year-old crime.
Maureen Burford, the elder of Gretchen Burford's daughters, said that after her mother died she had a powerful, direct experience of her mother's presence.
"I could feel my mother there with us in our grief: expansive, nurturing, wise. Her life no longer seemed limited in its form," she said.
"It is my conviction that we never become our behavior ... but as adults, whatever we inherit, life can be a journey of transformation, no matter where it is lived -- whether it is in prison or at home," she told Hamel.
Younger daughter Martha Burford said her mother had become a criminal defense attorney in her 40s, actively seeking to change young juvenile defenders' lives. Gretchen Burford chose to be a child advocate.
"I've never known anyone with so much life force who could change ... people's lives. ... This was the magic of my mother," she said.
Most of Hamel's victims are women, she said. The irony is that her mother, a woman, "would have helped you and would've tried to turn your life around. (And) two women -- my sister and I -- have sought to spare your life."
Gretchen Burford did not believe in the death penalty, her family has said.
Former State Senator Becky Morgan, who served on the Palo Alto school district board, said outside the courtroom that Gretchen Burford had been her best friend. When Burford died, Morgan was the one who broke the news to Burford's children.
"She was the sister I never had. It was pretty traumatic," she said. "I was about to give up [on the police solving the crime. It was 17 years when they found him."
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Jerome E. Brock said he believed Hamel's apologies are sincere. He said Gretchen Burford is remembered by the courts for her compassion. It is a cruel irony that Hamel is exactly the type of person Burford would have tried to help, he added.
In addition to the life sentence without parole to be run consecutively with a one-year weapons-enhancement conviction, Brock imposed a $10,000 fine for restitution, which he suspended.
He accepted the prosecution's request to drop charges in a separate robbery trial. Hamel was ordered returned to Texas, where he is already serving a life sentence plus 60 years for robberies and assaults.
Schembri, the detective who reopened the case, said the sentencing feels good. "It's appropriate," he said.
In January, the district attorney's office stopped funding a dedicated cold-case investigator and cold-case prosecutor due to budget cuts. Those cases are now looked at on a case-by-case basis, a spokesman for the district attorney's office has said.
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