A man who strangled a gay man 46 years ago was sentenced Sept. 21 to 5 years to life in state prison, which was the maximum penalty for second-degree murder in 1975.
Dennis Lepage, who was 18 years old when he killed Alvaro Espeleta, 28, is now 64 years old. Lepage was dressed in blue jail clothing and wore a white mask when he appeared before San Diego Superior Court Judge Laura Halgren.
“The law has changed dramatically since (the 1970s),” said Halgren to attorneys.
The judge directed the state Department of Corrections to re-figure the exact sentence. Deputy District Attorney Lisa Fox said it is likely the 5 years to life sentence will be changed to six years.
If the Department of Corrections decides to make the sentence longer than six years because of the case’s circumstances, a hearing will be held, said Fox.
Second-degree murder sentences today are a standard 15 years to life in which an inmate must serve at least 15 actual years before he/she can be eligible for a parole hearing.
LePage said nothing in court. Halgren gave him credit for 607 actual days spent in jail since his 2020 arrest in New York and then added 303 days of credit because inmates were allowed those credits in 1975.
In recent years, the law was changed so homicide defendants can no longer get the extra credits, said Fox.
LePage admitted to beating and strangling Espeleta in his apartment on Dec. 31, 1975 in the 3200 block of Reynard Way. He struck Espeleta with a heavy ashtray that broke into six pieces, which cut LePage’s hand leaving his blood on a towel in the bathroom.
LePage’s DNA was found on the bloody towel as well as on cigarette butts at the scene. He also left his palm print on the bathroom sink, another on the bathroom door, and his thumb print on a beer bottle in the apartment.
Investigators were able to lift LePage’s palm print from Espeleta’s chest. Espeleta was found naked in bed by his co-workers who showed up at his apartment when he failed to come to work as a dental technician for the Navy.
His finger and palm prints and DNA were submitted by investigators many times, but it didn’t get a match until 2019 by NCIS as a result of LePage’s arrest in 2010 in which his DNA and prints were taken.
LePage was arrested in Massachusetts in 2010 for violating a restraining order sought by his son involving some type of dispute, said Fox.
LePage was also in the Navy and his attorney said Espeleta invited him to a party only to find out he was the only guest there. LePage claimed he went to sleep in LePage’s bed, and “snapped” when Espeleta attempted to have sex with him that night.
LePage’s attorney, Denis Lainez, said LePage only acted in self-defense to avoid being raped, but Fox responded that was “a self-concocted story 45 years later.”
LePage pleaded guilty in June to second-degree murder. On July 30, the victim’s family members spoke out to LePage about their loss.
“I don’t know what happened between you and my brother, but you didn’t have to take his life,” said Alicia Espeleta Almeyda, the victim’s sister.
“We had no open casket because of what you did,” said the victim’s sister.
On Sept. 21, Halgren said about the family members “I have their comments and I remember their statements.”
Lainez asked the judge to seal three pages of the sentencing report that will follow LePage to prison. Halgren granted the request and those pages, which involve the 2010 case, are not public record.
LePage has been divorced from three different women over the years and he is a grandfather. A New York newspaper said two grandchildren attended a hearing there when he was first arrested in Jan., 2020. LePage worked as a truck driver and as a warehouse manager, his lawyer said.
It isn’t exactly known what type of dispute LePage had with his son, but had he not been arrested, his DNA and fingerprints would not have been collected and the case would still be unsolved.