Killer of LAPD officer in 1983 is sentenced to life in prison

Josh Cain
Los Angeles Daily News
November 29, 2023

The man thrice convicted of killing of a Los Angeles Police Department motorcycle officer in a brutal 1983 Lake View Terrace shooting was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Monday, Nov. 27.

Kenneth Earl Gay, 65, and a co-defendant were convicted of killing Officer Paul Verna with a flurry of gunshots following a traffic stop on Hoyt Street all those years ago.

Once again, after his latest trial and sentencing, Gay faced Verna’s family to hear how his actions that day shattered their lives forever. Again, he sat quietly as he listened to Verna’s widow and two sons tell him they’ll never stop seeking justice. Gay did not speak during the sentencing hearing.

After so many years, it was clear how long Verna’s family and Gay have had to contend with each other: From his original criminal trial just over four decades ago, to seeing Gay’s case dismissed twice and the retrials that followed, both sides have now tangled in court for longer than Verna, killed at 35 years old, ever spent alive.

“You were a coward then and you remain a coward today,” said Sandy Jackson, Verna’s widow, directly to Gay while giving a victim impact statement.

“I’ve had to deal with you yelling at me in court,” Jackson said, again addressing Gay. “You have called me a thorn in your side.”

Gay, behind bars since his arrest days after Verna’s killing on June 2, 1983, was sentenced Monday after a jury found him guilty in August of the murder and of a special circumstance allegation that he killed a police officer in the line of duty.

Gay was charged back then along with Raynard Cummings, his partner in a series of robberies that year. Cummings fired once at Verna during the traffic stop from the back seat of the Oldsmobile both were riding in, before handing the gun to Gay, who then shot Verna five times while he laid on the ground.

Verna likely had no idea the pair was responsible for robberies all over the Valley at the time: He stopped the Oldsmobile driver, Cummings’ then-wife Pamela Smith, and told her to step out after she ran a stop sign.

Prosecutors argued Gay and Cummings, both previously convicts, were scared of being caught and going back to prison. So they killed Verna, took his gun then went on the run.

Both Gay and Cummings were convicted of the killing in 1985. Unlike Cummings, whose guilt has never seriously been in doubt, Gay has repeatedly contested his conviction.

Gay’s death sentence was thrown out in 1998 after a judge found Gay’s attorney in the original trial tricked Gay into hiring him.

That resulted in a penalty phase retrial in 2000. Gay was again found eligible for the death penalty. By 2008, however, the California Supreme Court found that the judge in the 2000 case had erred, failing to present exculpatory evidence for Gay to the jury. Once again, Gay was spared the death penalty. At the time, however, the California high court did not rule on his guilt, and he remained in prison for Verna’s murder.

By 2020, however, the high court once again weighed in — this time, the seven-judge panel found unanimously that the lapses in Gay’s original defense back in 1985 were so serious that he would need to be retried all over again, both for his guilt in the killing and his sentencing, according to their ruling.

In the latest trial, the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office declined to seek the death penalty.

Superior Court Judge Hayden Zacky, who presided over Gay’s most recent trial, weighed in on the uniqueness of the case.

“I’ve never had a 40-year-old case,” he told the court before issuing his sentence for Gay.

Zacky noted how intense the latest trial had been. For weeks, prosecutors called witness after witness, most one-time residents of the stretch of Hoyt Street where the shooting occurred. All were forced to relive a day seared into their memories.

“The ripples of this case go out further and further and further,” Zacky said. “It still reverberates loudly as ever until this day.”

The judge said he hoped this hearing would finally be the end of the case. But Zacky noted yet another appeal from Gay was almost certain.