INDIO, Calif. - A transient was officially sentenced Friday to 56 years to life in prison for fatally stabbing a homeless woman in Palm Springs more than two and a half years ago.
Verne Raymond Orlop Jr., 55, was convicted in August of first-degree murder for killing 48-year-old Denee Salisbury weeks after claiming that she had threatened him and other members of the Palm Springs homeless community.
The victim's body was found on the night of Feb. 21, 2015, in a lot northwest of East Mesquite Road and South Palm Canyon Drive. She had been stabbed once in the chest and once in the throat. Police found Orlop the following morning near the scene of the killing with two knives and a garrote.
After officers briefly mentioned that they were investigating a stabbing, Orlop admitted killing Salisbury and provided details that only the killer would know, including the number and locations of the stab wounds she suffered, according to Deputy District Attorney Jacob Silva.
Orlop called a Palm Springs police dispatcher about two weeks prior to Salisbury's death and said that if police did not take her off the streets, he would kill her, the prosecutor said. Silva said Orlop was "fixated'' on ridding himself of Salisbury, who he said had threatened and robbed him, his girlfriend and other homeless people in Palm Springs.
"After the 911 call didn't accomplish his goal, he took matters into his own hands,'' Silva told jurors in his closing argument.
Orlop's attorney, Dennette McIntyre, described Salisbury as "extremely violent'' and frequently under the influence. Toxicology tests showed she had a 0.25 blood-alcohol content at the time of her death, the defense attorney said.
Both attorneys agreed that Salisbury and Orlop each suffered from mental illnesses and addiction.
McIntyre maintained that her client had valid reasons to be afraid for his safety, citing past assaults on Orlop with knives and rocks, robberies and verbal threats.
"All these contributed to his legitimate fear of Ms. Salisbury,'' said McIntyre, who characterized Orlop's 911 call as more of a plea for help then a threat toward Salisbury.
Silva countered that Orlop changed his story at trial with "convenient'' new facts to try to sway jurors toward the lesser charge of manslaughter. Orlop testified that Salisbury reached into a bag for what he thought might be a screwdriver or a knife, and also said that he intended to
stab her in the leg, but his knees buckled, causing him to fall and inadvertently plunge the knife into her chest.
McIntyre said Orlop was always upfront with police in saying that he felt threatened by Salisbury.
"This isn't a plot to kill,'' McIntyre said. "This is a man who is afraid.''
Riverside County Superior Court Judge James Hawkins originally handed Orlop the sentence in October, but held off execution of the sentence until Friday to allow for motions from his attorney.
On Friday, McIntyre sought to have Orlop's priors stricken, which included a 2012 guilty plea for threatening customers with a knife at the Palm Canyon Roadhouse in Palm Springs. That conviction -- a strike -- resulted in a doubling of Orlop's sentence after Hawkins denied the motion.
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