OAKLAND (CBS SF) - In an unusual move, a man has pleaded no contest to two counts of first-degree murder for killing two people in their homes in Alameda nearly 16 years ago.
Eugene Protsman, 58, a native of Colorado Springs, Colo., was sentenced by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Carrie Panetta to life in prison without the possibility of parole immediately after he pleaded no contest Monday to the murder counts plus the special circumstance of committing multiple murders.
Protsman killed 59-year-old Manuel Garcia in the 100 block of Crolls Garden Court on Oct. 29, 1996, and 54-year-old Diane Ely in the 2200 block of San Jose Avenue 12 days later, on Nov. 10, 1996.
Protsman, who has long, straight reddish hair, was charged with the crimes last September after Alameda police said DNA evidence linked him to the two victims.
The cause of death for both victims was a combination of blunt force trauma and stab wounds, police said.
Police said there is no evidence that Garcia and Ely knew each other, and at the time of their murders, there was no indication that the two cases were related.
Protsman’s lawyer, Richard Humphrey, said that in his 40-year legal career, he has never seen anyone else plead no contest to two counts of first-degree murder.
But Humphrey said Prostman’s situation is unusual because he already is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for murdering Elisabeth Smith in her home in an El Cajon trailer park in San Diego County in 1997.
That means that even if Protsman had been found not guilty of committing the Alameda murders, he never would have gotten out of prison, Humphrey said.
Protsman theoretically could have faced the death penalty if he had been tried for the Alameda murders, but Humphrey said there wasn’t much point in prosecutors seeking that punishment because Protsman will never get out of prison in any event.
Humphrey said Prostman “was heavily into drugs” when he killed Smith and the two Alameda victims, and that pleading no contest to the Alameda murders “may be a closure” for him.
“There’s been a change in the way he sees things and he’s trying to get himself together,” Humphrey said.
The defense attorney said there are two other reasons why Protsman entered his pleas: he can get better treatment for his medical problems in state prison than he can in Alameda County Jail, and he has been held in an isolated unit at the county jail in the 11 months he has been housed there.
“He’s in isolation 23 hours a day and that may have played a part” in his decision to enter his pleas, Humphrey said.
In a posting last year on Convict House, a pen-pal site for prisoners seeking friendship, Protsman wrote, “Doing life without parole. I will never get out and am lonely. Please write.”
Humphrey said Protsman made full confessions to the Alameda murders last year and a defense investigation confirmed his guilt.
Alameda police said they had received information in the fall of 2010 that linked Protsman to both murders. Recent technological advances in the science of DNA evidence ultimately helped solve the case, police said.
(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)