A severed leg in the parking lot. Bloodied victims in spa robes. A burned-out shell where an Aliso Viejo business used to be.
The grisly aftermath of a 2018 explosion that rocked Orange County was laid out at a sentencing hearing in federal court for Stephen William Beal — convicted last year of planting a homemade package bomb that killed his ex-girlfriend and injured two others.
During the Friday hearing in downtown Los Angeles, 64-year-old Beal, dressed in a white prison jumpsuit, said he would “always maintain my innocence in this case.”
Soon afterward, Judge Josephine L. Staton handed down a life sentence, plus an additional 30 years, after noting that Beal had not taken responsibility for the crime.
“The cold, calculating nature of this crime is chilling,” Staton said to a courtroom of more than two dozen people, including victims, reporters and law enforcement. “The court believes the defendant is likely to remain a danger to the public for the rest of his life.”
Outside the courthouse after the verdict, U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said Beal had murdered his ex-girlfriend, Ildiko Krajnyak, “in one of the most depraved and despicable ways possible.”
“Justice has been served,” Estrada said. “Mr. Beal will spend the rest of his days in a federal penitentiary.”
On May 15, 2018, Krajnyak opened a cardboard box she found at her day spa, Magyar Kozmetika. The resulting blast caused the 48-year-old's midsection, arms and hands to disintegrate, according to prosecutors.
A mother and daughter who were inside the spa when the bomb went off escaped the burning building through a blown-out wall. They were both hospitalized and one of them lost an eye because of shrapnel.
At a four-week trial last year, evidence showed Beal became obsessed with Krajnyak after she tried to distance herself from him. At one point, prosecutors said, Beal threatened to kill himself after Krajnyak said she needed space.
On a trip to Portugal two months before the explosion, Beal examined Krajnyak's phone and discovered she’d been seeing other men. During the trip, he took pictures of her text messages with one of them.
Beal had access to the spa, knowledge of Krajnyak’s habits, and “decades of experience in rocketry,” combining skill in electronics and chemistry that made it possible to build a bomb without blowing himself up, Assistant U.S. Atty. Mark Takla said during the trial.
When investigators searched Beal's home after the explosion, they found more than 130 pounds of explosive precursor chemicals, explosive mixtures and wires of the same type found in the ceiling at the blast site.
During the trial, defense attorney Meghan Blanco had described her client as “nothing more than a hobbyist” who tinkered with rockets and pyrotechnics, and said authorities had rushed to judgment.
“Is it a very common hobby? No,” she said. “Does it make Mr. Beal a bomber? No.”
In July, jurors found Beal guilty of using a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and three other felonies related to the blast.
During his sentencing, Beal continued trying to deflect blame, telling the judge, “I just wish the person who actually committed this crime was sitting here, not me.”
Beal kept his back turned as victims shared the trauma they had endured after the blast, including fear of opening mail and hearing loud noises.
Rebekah Radomski, who was working at a mental health clinic near the salon at the time of the blast, described the “sheer terror of this near-death experience.”
“To this day, it remains truly challenging to rationalize how because a man had his feelings hurt by a former lover, he reacted with cowardly violence and zero regard for human life,” Radomski said. “He deserves to never see the light of day again except from a prison yard.”
Krajnyak’s cousin, Eva Boni, said Beal had “single-handedly destroyed my family."
Takla, the U.S. attorney, called it "a miracle" that the two women inside the spa had survived. He read a letter from one of them, who described her physical disfigurement, scarring and hearing loss. Less visible, she wrote, is the emotional trauma.
"Fear has become my foundation and worry my reality," she wrote. "I'm a different, lesser version of who I used to be."
Outside the courthouse after the verdict, O.C. Sheriff Don Barnes criticized Beal for continuing to proclaim his innocence.
“It was an insult to the criminal justice process that he did that,” Barnes said. “We have the right guy, we had the right guy all along. He got a fair trial, he’s held accountable, he will die in prison one day.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.