LOS ANGELES — A man is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to killing a bride-to-be in a botched burglary that netted only her driver's license, then setting her apartment on fire.
In a heart-wrenching court hearing Tuesday, 34-year-old Omar Armando Loera pleaded guilty to murder with the special circumstance of murder during the commission of a burglary. He entered his plea in Los Angeles Superior Court in Van Nuys as part of a deal with prosecutors to avoid risking a potential death sentence.
He apologized to family and friends of Cheree Osmanhodzic, also 34, who was killed July 24, exactly two months before she was scheduled to be married. Loera, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and shackled in handcuffs, said he would trade his life for the victim's if he could.
"I will pay in full," Loera said. "I will give my life, as we speak, if I could bring her back. I'm sorry I put them through all of this because of me."
In sentencing Loera, Superior Court Judge Jessica Perrin Silvers said the defendant trampled on the lives of the victim's family and caused a loss that is incalculable.
"You did away with a person as if she didn't count," Perrin Silvers said. "You destroyed any impact for good she was capable of giving."
Loera was captured in October in the border town of Mexicali following a manhunt. Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace said Loera was linked to the crime through DNA evidence found on an Apple iPod Shuffle not far from the crime scene as well as a neighbor identifying the defendant. The only item believed to be taken from Osmanhodzic's Los Angeles residence was her driver's license, Grace said.
Osmanhodzic came home and was stabbed 20 times by Loera who fled after her fiance, Adam Culvey, interrupted the crime. Culvey gave chase and had a brief scuffle with Loera in an alley before he went back to the apartment that was engulfed in flames, authorities said.
Culvey, Osmanhodzic's parents and her friends all attended the hearing, with some holding photos of the victim. Culvey, 32, opted not to speak.
Those who knew Osmanhodzic said she was excited for her upcoming wedding and was a good friend and daughter.
"He's going to have to face the Lord one day and he's going to have to justify what he did to my daughter," said a tearful Mike Cameron, Osmanhodzic's father.
Culvey's father, Don Culvey, said he has been proud of his son who has since taken a reconciliatory stance toward Loera.
"He told me, 'I ended up praying for his salvation,'" the elder Culvey said. "'I ended up crying for him.'"
Loera had been convicted of prior crimes including marijuana possession in 1998, assault with a deadly weapon in 2000 and possessing a dagger in 2008. He was deported to Mexico early last year but it was later determined by immigration officials that he was a U.S. citizen.
Osmanhodzic's mother, Gail Cameron, said she was shopping with her daughter the day she was killed and thought she would see her the following Sunday for the bridal shower. She said she thinks about her daughter every day and wonders why Loera decided to kill her.
"Since that day my life hasn't been and will never be the same," she said.