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Serial killer sentenced to death in California 'Alphabet Murders'

By Ronnie Cohen

SAN RAFAEL, California (Reuters) - An elderly pin-up photographer convicted of killing four Northern California prostitutes with double initials in the so-called "Alphabet Murders" was sentenced to death on Friday by a judge who called him "evil."

Joseph Naso, 79, will be the oldest convict to arrive on San Quentin State Prison's death row since California reinstated capital punishment in 1977, a prison spokesman said.

Marin County Judge Andrew Sweet called Naso a "ruthless, pathological predator" before condemning him to death for murdering the four women and dumping their scantily clad bodies in remote locations between 1977 and 1994.

"The evidence in this case established clearly that you are an evil and disturbed man," Sweet told Naso. "Your being in the world has made this a worse place, and for your atrocious crimes you are going to be sentenced to the ultimate punishment."

But the balding, stooped serial killer may well die of natural causes rather than in the death chamber.

California has not executed a convict since 2006, when a federal judge halted executions, saying a three-drug lethal injection risked causing inmates too much pain and suffering before death.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit, called Naso's punishment "purely a symbolic gesture with very little chance of being carried out."

Naso acted as his own attorney during a two-month trial. Although he maintained his innocence, he presented a meager, sometimes rambling defense.

A jury in August found Naso guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of Roxene Roggasch, 18, and Carmen Colon, 22, in the 1970s, and Pamela Parsons, 38, and Tracy Tafoya, 31, in the 1990s. The matching initials of each victim's first and last names led to the crimes becoming known as the "Alphabet Murders."

Naso, during a jailhouse interview with Reuters last year, sought to downplay the significance of the victims' initials. "This double initial thing is just a coincidence," he said.

Naso drugged, sexually assaulted and strangled the women he killed, prosecutors said.

"This man robbed me of my childhood with my mother," Shane Ashby, Roggasch's son, said in court on Friday.

Ashby was 18 months old when Naso murdered his mother.

10 TOTAL VICTIMS?

Naso claimed to the court on Friday that DNA evidence had been planted on two of the murdered women.

"I have sympathy, remorse for anybody who dies and the people they leave behind," he said. "But I'm not guilty of these crimes."

Nevada probation officers connected Naso in 2010 to the four killings, after a search of his Reno home turned up ammunition, erotically dressed mannequins, handcuffs, journals detailing violent sex acts and hundreds of photographs of naked women - many appearing dead or unconscious.

Investigators used a handwritten, numbered roster discovered in Naso's home to link him to the slayings. The roster lists nine spots in California and one in Florida where authorities believe Naso discarded his victims' bodies.

Marin County District Attorney Ed Berberian told Reuters he believes Naso killed at least 10 women over several decades but that authorities "were not able to marshal enough evidence" to present charges in all 10 of those cases.

Although Naso is the oldest person to be convicted and sent to California's death row since 1977, serial killer David Carpenter, 83, is the oldest person living there.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Gunna Dickson and Eric Walsh)

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