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Man convicted in beating death of girlfriend

On a summer morning in 2011, a woman was fiddling with the blinds in her apartment while talking to her boyfriend on the phone when she heard screams.

The noises – odd for 3:30 a.m. – appeared to be coming from a van parked outside her window. The woman called 911, and within minutes, Los Angeles police officers responded to the 4000 block of South Main Street.

Inside the van, 31-year-old Louise Savior was found beaten to death. Beside her was her boyfriend of eight months, Johnnie Kemp, who had to be dragged out of the vehicle, according to prosecutors. 

Last week, a jury found Kemp guilty of first-degree murder with the use of a dangerous weapon after about an hour of deliberations.

During closing arguments, the prosecution and defense painted two varying portraits of the people involved in the domestic dispute on Aug. 6, 2011.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Sam Hulefeld said that Kemp “viciously beat” Savior with both ends of a hammer in the only home she had – the van. He projected onto a screen a photo of Savior, smiling, and then a photo of her beaten face.

“This is not what we call a whodunnit,” he said. “The right man is sitting in this seat right now.”

Kemp sat in the courtroom looking over papers in a gray suit, a yarmulke on his head. To one side lay a blue Bible peppered with multicolored tabs. After police pulled Kemp from the van, the hammer was found hidden between clothes and sheets.

Coroner’s officials said Savior was struck in the head at least 15 times and had bruises on her arms and hands that were consistent with defense injuries.

“He kept going until the screaming stopped,” Hulefeld said during his closing arguments in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.

Kemp gave multiple accounts of what happened that night. In one story, he said that he and Savior had been robbed, and in another, said that the two had picked up a person whom he didn’t know, then Kemp was awakened by police. 

During the trial, Kemp testified that Savior had attacked him and he acted in self-defense.

Kemp’s attorney, Mark Montpas, said Savior, who had a history of drug use and prostitution, was a woman who lived her life through intimidation and violence.

She had previously been convicted of assaulting her ex-husband, Montpas said. Kemp’s mother testified that she saw Savior act aggressively toward her son on multiple occasions and had witnessed the woman threaten Kemp with a knife.

“Whatever Ms. Savior could get her hands on to use as a weapon, she would,” Montpas said.

That night, Savior attacked Kemp, the lawyer said. “He finally fought back,” Montpas said.

During closing arguments, Hulefeld told the jury that Kemp had five convictions over 30 years for crimes that included rape, robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.

“He had a moment where he could have stopped.... But he didn’t, he kept going until he silenced her,” Hulefeld said.

He reminded the jury that Savior’s family members were not in attendance. He told them to find Kemp guilty.

“That’s all that’s left for her,” he said.

Kemp, 55, is tentatively scheduled to be sentenced June 13.

-- Nicole Santa Cruz

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