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San Fernando Valley Breaking News: Crime

Court Upholds Former Van Nuys Resident’s Conviction, Death Sentence For Burning Ex-Girlfriend Alive in Car


The California Supreme Court today upheld a former
Van Nuys resident’s conviction and death sentence for burning his ex-girlfriend
alive in her car, which was found on the side of a Southland freeway.

The state’s highest court rejected the defense’s contention that there
were numerous errors in Donald Lewis Brooks Jr.’s trial in a San Fernando

Brooks was convicted in June 2001 of first-degree murder, stalking and
arson causing great bodily injury involving Lisa Kerr, 32, of Panorama City.

Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegations of murder
during the commission of a kidnapping and murder involving the infliction of

Kerr’s body was found at about 4 a.m. March 24, 1999, in her fire-gutted
1994 Ford Probe, which had been left on an embankment along the Hollywood
(170) Freeway at Roscoe Boulevard. At first, firefighters thought Kerr could
have died in a fiery wreck, but authorities later determined that the mother of
a 7-year-old son had been murdered.

In a 143-page ruling authored by Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-
Sakauye, the panel found that “the evidence of premeditation, including
defendant’s own statements, was extremely strong.”

The justices noted that Brooks — who had worked as a plumber — told
his plumbing assistant several months before Kerr’s death that he wanted to get
Kerr “off his mind” by blowing up her car or setting it on fire.

“Premeditation was further shown by strong circumstantial evidence,
including the secluded location of Kerr’s burning car and evidence showing that
defendant poured accelerant over Kerr and the inside of her car, stuffed a
burning rag into the gas tank and, when that did not ignite the accelerant, lit
a rolled-up piece of paper on fire and threw it into the car to set it
ablaze,” the panel found.

The justices also noted that Brooks had become “increasingly jealous
and possessive of Kerr, and he was angry and upset that she wanted to reconcile
with her husband.”

Justice Goodwin H. Liu agreed with the majority’s decision on all of the
points raised by the defense except for whether there was sufficient evidence
to support the special circumstance allegation of murder during a kidnapping.

“Based on the evidence here, I do not see how a reasonable jury could
find beyond a reasonable doubt that Brooks had an independent felonious purpose
for the kidnapping,” he wrote.

Brooks was charged in April 1999 with the woman’s killing.

He was not seen again until his arrest that July in Colorado Springs,
after he was featured on a “Crimestoppers” segment that featured his photo.

Brooks, who had been living in Colorado under an assumed name, decided not to
fight extradition and was returned to Southern California five days later.

Police said at the time of Brooks’ arrest that he had apparently become
enraged after Kerr told him she did not want to see him any more.

Trial testimony showed that he had stalked the woman between Sept. 1,
1998, and the day she died, and that the discovery of soot in her mouth and
other body parts showed that she was alive when the fire was started.

Brooks was sentenced to death in July 2001.

City News Service

Image by bikeriderlondon

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