Calif. man who dealt with death faces prison life

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — David Wayne Sconce’s past life as a mortician has come back to haunt him decades after he gained notoriety for stealing body parts from corpses and plotting to kill a funeral business rival.

Sconce, 56, is to be sentenced Monday for a case that could keep him behind bars the rest of his life because of an unusual plea bargain struck years ago with a judge.

His convoluted legal saga dates from macabre crimes at his family’s Pasadena funeral home that included stealing gold dental fillings from the dead in the 1980s to his sentencing last year for stealing a Montana neighbor’s gun.

The federal conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm triggered an allegation that he violated the lifetime probation term he was given in Los Angeles County. Prosecutors now want him to serve 25 years to life in prison for violating probation by getting in trouble.

Defense attorney Roger Diamond said prosecutors are on a vendetta and treating his client like a monster. He maintains Sconce should remain on probation.

“He doesn’t deserve a life sentence, given the entire history of this case,” Diamond said. “He’s never solicited anyone’s murder and nobody has been killed as a result of his actions.”

Sconce was sentenced in 1989 to a five-year prison term for mutilating corpses, conducting mass cremations at a ceramics kiln and hiring thugs to rough up three competing morticians.

He was later charged with conspiring to hire a hit man to murder a potential buyer of a rival crematory. A judge who dismissed the case said that if prosecutors successfully appealed, Sconce could plead guilty and be placed on lifetime probation.

After a couple rounds of appeals, Sconce ended up pleading guilty to murder conspiracy in 1997 and was placed on lifetime probation, an unusual sentence in California.

When Sconce was hauled back into court in 2002 for an unspecified probation violation, Judge Joseph De Vanon told him, “If you come back before me on a violation of probation, I will sentence you to life in prison.”

Los Angeles County prosecutors want that punishment carried out after he was sentenced in October to five years of probation after trying to sell a stolen rifle at a Montana pawn shop.

Prosecutors wouldn’t comment on the case, but they argued in court filings that Sconce “remains unable and unwilling to abide to the most basic terms and conditions of probation.”

Michael Brennan, a law professor at the University of Southern California, said he’s never seen lifetime probation used in such a case and can’t imagine Sconce will be locked up for life.

“The guy should go to jail for a while, maybe a couple of years,” Brennan said. “I just don’t see anybody getting a life sentence.”

One factor that could weigh in Sconce’s favor is that he won’t appear before the same judge who vowed to lock him up forever. De Vanon is retired.

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