September 18, 2009 4:36 PM

Prosecutors drop death penalty against serial rape suspect


The Orange County Register

An Orange County prosecutor dropped a death penalty allegation against a serial rape suspect today on the eve of his trial for killing a woman who tried to prevent him from raping a co-worker.

James Detory Shipp, 31, then pleaded guilty to first-degree murder with the special circumstance of committing a murder during an attempted rape, plus nine other felony charges. The guilty pleas mean that he will be receive life without parole at his sentencing by Superior Court Judge James A. Stotler on Tuesday.

Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy struck the death allegation after defense attorneys Doug Myers and Milton Grimes made a last-ditch appeal on Monday to top managers in the District Attorney's Office – including Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas – to present mitigating circumstances on Shipp's behalf.

Murphy told Stotler in court that the defense team presented new information that caused prosecutors to re-evaluate the appropriate penalty in the case.

"This means that James Shipp will die in prison," Murphy said after the guilty pleas. "There will be no appeal on his behalf. There is no possibility that he will ever be released."

Myers said defense experts recently developed evidence that Shipp suffered neurological problems from birth, that he sustained brain injuries in high school and in his early 20s as a running back in football and as an aspiring boxer.

Shipp was also traumatized as a child by domestic violence in his family, particularly from his father directed at his mother, Myers said.

Myers also presented evidence that Shipp is very close to his mother and two sisters, was a good father to three children, and was effective as a youth pastor and leader of prayer sessions for the homeless at Calvary Chapel.

Shipp, the son of a Santa Ana church deacon, pleaded guilty today to shooting and killing Theresa Guevara, 34, of Rancho Santa Margarita, when she rushed up to help a co-worker at an Irvine office during a sexual assault on Jan. 9, 1998.

He also pleaded guilty to rape, kidnapping, assault, lewd acts on a child and burglary in connection with five other sexual assaults between 1997 and 2001.