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Man Who Killed 3 USC Film Students Dies On Death Row

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David Leslie Murtishaw, convicted and sentenced to death for the 1978 murders of three University of Southern California film students, was found dead in his cell at San Quentin State Prison late last night. Murtishaw, 54, died of natural causes, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Murtishaw was sentenced to death by a Kern County jury for the April 9, 1978, for the murders of James Lee Henderson, Martha Bernice Soto and Ingrid M. Etayo. "The three victims were helping University of Southern California film student Lance Wyatt make a film about a man stranded in the desert. Soto, who was married to Wyatt, and Henderson were acting in the film, and Etayo helped with props," explains CBS San Francisco.

The killer ultimately admitted that he and his brother-in-law had tucked into three to four six-packs of beer while in the desert that day, and that hearing the students fire off a blank pistol in one of the scenes left him “scared and just mixed up," prompting him to shoot at the victims, who were all in their early twenties. Only Wyatt survived.

Murtishaw had been on death row since May 1, 1979, though he twice had the death sentence overturned, once in 1981 and again in 2001. The death sentence was upheld for a third time in February 2011.

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As of today, there are now 718 offenders on California's death row.