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Man who admitted killing lesbian couple on trial for his life

September 24, 1997

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) _ In a pickup truck full of Christmas presents for her 2-year-old granddaughter, Roxanne Ellis drove to a suburban neighborhood to show a rental apartment to a man from California.

But Robert Acremant wanted money to start over, demanding a check first from Ellis and then from her companion and business partner, Michelle Abdill. When they refused, he bound them with duct tape, ordered them into the bed of the pickup and shot them in the head with a pistol.

Their bodies were found three days later, not long before Christmas 1995.

Now Acremant, 29, who pleaded guilty last year to two counts of aggravated murder, is on trial for his life. Jury selection began Tuesday for a panel that will decide if he should die or get life in prison without parole. The penalty phase could take up to a month.

The slayings sent a shudder through the gay community of southern Oregon. Partners for 12 years, Ellis, 53, and Abdill, 42, had worked for the defeat of a statewide measure to limit the rights of homosexuals and had cared for AIDS victims.

``I can’t even tell you how frightening it was, especially for the lesbian community,″ said Cherie Garland of Ashland, a member of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and a close friend of both women.

It was Acremant’s own mother who recognized her son from a police sketch circulated after the Dec. 4, 1995, killings and turned him in. He has already been sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison for kidnapping and robbery.

Acremant admitted he did it, first saying it was a robbery gone awry and later saying he targeted the women because they were lesbians and he figured they wouldn’t have families that would miss them.

Acremant wrote in an Aug. 8 letter to the Stockton newspaper that he killed the women because he hated homosexuals and bisexuals. In jail, he tried to hang himself.

A former accountant with a master’s degree in business administration, Acremant had left his job with Roadway Express to market software he developed. Then his personal life fell apart _ he was spurned by a Las Vegas stripper and began drinking heavily.

Acremant confessed in his letter to killing a Visalia, Calif., man, Scott George, the son of a friend of his mother’s, last October in a drunken rage after the man made a homosexual pass. He has not been charged in the case.

Acremant has said he wanted to be executed by injection, but last week he allowed his lawyer to request a life prison sentence. The request was denied.

While believing Acremant deserves to die, Garland doesn’t believe she could vote for death if she were on the jury. She prefers knowing the deaths served as a catalyst for the creation of a gay community center in Ashland.

``What could you possibly do that would be a satisfactory revenge?″ she asked. ``There isn’t a way. You just turn it into something beautiful.″

For Lorri Ellis, the two years spent waiting for justice for her mother’s killer has been painful. She has moved with her 4-year-old daughter back to Colorado Springs, Colo., where she grew up. She sold the property management business run by her mother Abdill and now manages an apartment complex.

She hopes Acremant is sentenced to death.

``Christmas for me is pretty much out the window,″ she said. ``My daughter is the only person who keeps it alive for me.″

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