March 23, 2017
A Los Angeles man facing criminal charges connected to the rape and murder of an Oxnard woman 30 years ago pleaded no contest.
Vincent Mackey, 54, appeared Wednesday before Ventura County Superior Court Judge Matthew Guasco for an early disposition conference, but decided to plead no contest to the first-degree murder of 19-year-old Isabel Hernandez on Sept. 28, 1985.
Mackey also faced a special allegation that he used a deadly weapon, a knife, to kill Hernandez. He also faced a special circumstance that he committed the murder during a rape and a burglary while having a prior murder conviction.
Mackey will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole when he appears back in court April 20.
Senior Deputy District Attorney John Barrick said Hernandez was staying at her boyfriend's Oxnard apartment for the weekend when she was killed. Hernandez's boyfriend had gone to a Bruce Springsteen concert while she stayed at the apartment.
The boyfriend discovered Hernandez's body when he returned home, Barrick said. The 19-year-old was stabbed 11 times in the upper torso, chest and neck area. Further investigation showed she was also raped.
"The crime was so brutal and unnecessary," Barrick said. "She was a true innocent and was adored by her family and her friends. The fact that we could provide closure for her family and they now know the person who killed her is being held accountable for her murder is rewarding. If there is anything positive about this case, Mr. Mackey accepted responsibility so early in the process, and that saved the family from having to go through the emotional trauma of a trial."
The case remained unsolved for three decades until it was reopened in 2013 by then Oxnard Police Department Detective Mike Young, who was assigned to the Ventura County Sheriff's Cold Case Task Force.
Barrick said Hernandez did not know Mackey, but Mackey had lived in the same Oxnard apartment with his then-girlfriend and her roommate before Hernandez's boyfriend moved in.
After police and investigators combed the apartment for evidence and cleared the scene the morning after the murder, Barrick said, witnesses saw someone fitting Mackey's description at the apartment about three hours later and the home was burglarized of two television sets, a VCR and other items.
Barrick said burglary charges could not be filed against Mackey at that time because the witnesses' description was "shaky."
Authorities said that 11 months later, Mackey then murdered his employer, James Sprigg. Barrick said Mackey had been working for Sprigg's manufacturing company, Xtrax Inc. in El Rio when Mackey killed the 67-year old man with a ball peen hammer.
Mackey had been stealing checks from the business and had cashed them, authorities said. Mackey had also used Sprigg's credit cards the night of the murder to check into a motel in Oxnard, authorities said. Officers arrested Mackey a few days later at the motel, Barrick said.
Barrick said police also found blood matching Sprigg's blood type on Mackey's clothing. Mackey was convicted of Sprigg's murder on May 7, 1987, and received life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Hernandez's case remained "cold" until Young reopened the file and reinterviewed witnesses decades after the 19-year-old's death.
Young, who is now an investigator with the Ventura County District Attorney's Office, said the primary investigators on Hernandez's case "did a good job" collecting various evidence, including bodily fluids left behind.
"The case sat because the technology simply wasn't there yet," Young said. "Back in 1985, no one knew anything about DNA ... and (Mackey) had been in prison when we reopened this case."
In 2014, a check with the Combined DNA Index System, a databank that contains DNA profiles of people arrested across the United States, matched the DNA collected from the crime scene with Mackey, Young said.
Mackey was already serving life without the possibility parole at Solano State Prison when a warrant was issued for his arrest on Hernandez's murder.
Young said Hernandez was involved at her community church and was well-loved by many people.
"She didn't live an at-risk lifestyle by any means," Young said. "She was inside her boyfriend's apartment — a place that should be a place of safety — when this happened. It's one of these rare events that nightmares are made of."
The District Attorney's Office had initially considered capital punishment for Mackey.
Ayala Benefraim and Bartley Brown, of the Public Defender's Office, gave a presentation to the District Attorney's Office arguing against the death penalty.
After weeks of consideration, prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty. Prosecutors considered various factors, including evidence that Mackey has been "a model prisoner" since has been in custody for Sprigg's murder, Barrick said.
Young, however, said Hernandez's and Sprigg's manners of death showed Mackey "brutally killed his victims."
"Those who work on these murders do not forget about the victims ... and it sometimes becomes an obsession," Young said. "Hopefully, this delivers a message that even after all of these many years ... that we never forget."