A court in California has sentenced two Soviet emigrants to death for kidnapping and brutally murdering five people, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported on Tuesday.

District Judge Dickran Tevrizian formally sentenced Jurijus Kadamovas, 40, from Lithuania and Iouri Mikhel, 41, from St. Petersburg, Monday. A jury found the two guilty in February for the ransom killings of four men and a woman in 2001-2002 and for subsequent money laundering.

Prosecutors say the two men led a group that sought to amass a fortune by kidnapping affluent business people, some of whom were Russian immigrants, and extorting money from their families and friends. The local Orange County Register newspaper said the convicts strangled their victims after receiving a $1.2 million ransom from their relatives.

Prosecutors say the victims were killed regardless of whether the ransoms were paid. The bodies were tied to weights and dumped in a reservoir near Yosemite National Park.

Defense attorneys said they would appeal the ruling.

The newspaper quoted the defense as saying during the trial that their clients had grown up under a Communist regime, and became criminals in order to survive.

In addition to Mikhel and Kadamovas, another defendant in the case, Ukrainian-born Piotr Krylov, may also face a capital punishment if found guilty. Two other suspects, including Kadamovas’s girlfriend, are cooperating with investigators.

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