Kenneth Earl Gay, 65, was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for the 1983 murder of Los Angeles Police Department Officer Paul Verna. The sentencing on Monday, November 27, marks the culmination of a legal saga spanning four decades, during which Gay faced multiple trials and convictions for the killing.
Officer Verna was fatally shot following a traffic stop in Lake View Terrace in 1983. Gay, along with co-defendant Raynard Cummings, was initially convicted in 1985. The case against Gay, however, has seen numerous twists over the years, with his conviction being contested and overturned multiple times.
During the latest sentencing hearing, Verna’s family, including his widow Sandy Jackson and two sons, confronted Gay, expressing the enduring impact of the loss on their lives. Jackson addressed Gay directly, recounting past court interactions and calling him a coward.
Gay’s involvement in the crime traces back to June 2, 1983, when Officer Verna stopped a car driven by Cummings’ then-wife Pamela Smith for a traffic violation. Unbeknownst to Verna, Gay and Cummings were involved in a series of robberies in the Valley. Fearing arrest and subsequent imprisonment, Cummings shot Verna once before handing the gun to Gay, who then shot Verna multiple times.
Gay’s journey through the justice system has been complex. His initial death sentence was overturned in 1998 due to issues with his original trial attorney. A subsequent penalty phase retrial in 2000 again found Gay eligible for the death penalty, but this decision was later reversed by the California Supreme Court in 2008 due to judicial errors. The high court did not question Gay’s guilt but ordered a retrial on both the conviction and sentencing.
The most recent trial in 2020, overseen by Superior Court Judge Hayden Zacky, led to Gay’s current sentencing. The L.A. County District Attorney’s Office opted not to seek the death penalty this time. Judge Zacky remarked on the unique and longstanding nature of the case, highlighting the emotional intensity of the trial and the lasting impact on witnesses and the community.
The trial involved testimony from numerous witnesses, many of whom were residents of Hoyt Street where the shooting occurred, revisiting a traumatic day in their lives. The judge expressed hope that this hearing would conclude the case, although he anticipated a further appeal from Gay.