SAN QUENTIN, CA — As of 2018, Michael Hughes, 62, has spent the past seven years on Death Row in California’s San Quentin State Prison. He’s been locked up, however, since 1993.
As a ferocious serial killer, Hughes — who also came to be called the “Southside Slayer” — has been convicted of seven sadistic rape-murders of particularly vulnerable African-American women in urban Los Angeles between 1986 and 1993.
During that especially dire period of L.A. history, the plagues of crack cocaine, police brutality, and gang-related drive-by shootings decimated low-income, high-crime neighborhoods.So did five separate serial killers who are believed to have stalked and slaughtered residents of the most besieged areas of the South Los Angeles area.
Lonnie David Franklin Jr., aka “The Grim Sleeper,” was one such psycho. Michael Hughes was another. Others remain unknown. As a result, Hughes was, in fact, just one of a quintet of “Southside Slayers.”
LAPD cold-case detective Cliff Shepard recalls that dreadful era vividly, saying:
“We were asked to regularly patrol schools and parks because women were being assaulted there. It was a frightening time. There was a lot of violence, especially after dark.”
One such patrol picked up Michael Hughes, then working as a security guard, in November 1993. Officers spotted Hughes suspiciously pushing a shopping cart along a Culver City street.
Upon closer inspection, the officers saw that tied to the cart was the dead body of Jamie Harrington — Hughes’ latest casualty. They brought him in immediately.
After raping and fatally strangling his victims, Hughes posed them in humiliating positions with their legs spread apart in alleys lining the commercial districts of Culver City. That’s what he’d been looking to do with Jamie Harrington when the cops caught him.Over the next five years, detectives and prosecutors connected Hughes to the murders of Theresa Ballard, 26; Brenda Bradley, 38; and Terri Myles, 33; all of who died between 1992 and ’93.
In 1998, Michael Hughes received life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Alas, it was not to be his final sentence, as cold-case investigators and emerging DNA technology continued to attach Hughes to unsolved crimes, ultimately leading to his getting the death penalty.
Ten years into his stint at Kern Valley State Prison, officials charged Michael Hughes with four additional homicides:
• Yvonne Coleman, 15, found in an Inglewood park on January 22, 1986
• Verna Patricia Williams, 15, found in a Los Angeles stairwell on May 26, 1986
• Deborah Jackson, aka Harriet McKinley, 32, killed on December 1, 1987, but not found in Los Angeles until June 25, 1993.
Prosecutors also wanted to pin Hughes with the 1990 slaying of Deanna Wilson, 30, but they couldn’t build a strong enough case (many believe Deanna actually fell prey to Lonnie Franklin, the “Grim Sleeper”).
Regardless, in November 2011, a jury convicted Hughes for the three murders on the books and sentenced him to die via lethal injection.
In the years since, Hughes has attempted to get the conviction overturned, insisting that the severe abuse his mother subjected him to as a child should be a mitigating factor. Thus far, the state of California has not agreed.
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Main photo: Michael Hughes [California Department of Corrections]