Articles by Frank Mickadeit of the Orange County Register:
Published: Sept. 30, 2013 Updated: Oct. 1, 2013 11:03 a.m.
Mickadeit: Goodwin prosecutors respond
By FRANK MICKADEIT COLUMNIST / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
I’m reading “Bleak House” by Charles Dickens, whose cynical message about his era’s dysfunctional judicial system is characterized by a lawsuit that carries on for generations, doing nothing more than employing barristers, churning out reams of paperwork and keeping the lives of numerous innocent parties in limbo.
So on Monday, when I hefted the attorney general’s 291-page response to the defendant’s 472-page appeal in the People of the State of California v. Michael Frank Goodwin, I imagined I was in 19th-century England reading pleadings from Dickens’ iconic Jarndyce v. Jarndyce.
Mike Goodwin, center, with two long-time friends, Tom White, left and Bryon Farnsworth, right, in a 2011 photo.
COURTESY JOHN BRADLEY
As a practical matter, People v. Goodwin is 25 years old this year, having its genesis in the 1988 slayings of race car driver Mickey Thompson and his wife, Trudy. They were gunned down in their driveway in Los Angeles County by two men who have never been identified. Goodwin, an O.C. resident and Mickey’s former business partner, was immediately suspected of hiring the killers, but it wasn’t until 2001 that he was charged.
Goodwin was convicted of murder in 2008 and got a life sentence. His appeal was not filed until last year. The delay is due to a variety of Dickensian reasons I don’t have room to detail. So when I last wrote about the case, in December, I focused on just four of the defense’s 27 grounds for appeal. Today, we’ll look at the A.G.’s responses to the two that have O.C. roots; Wednesday, we’ll look at two grounded in L.A. County law enforcement activities.
Issue One: Undue Influence? Goodwin’s appellate lawyer, Gail Harper, alleges that the L.A. D.A.’s office did not file charges for 16 years because it had no case. She contends that Mickey’s sister, former San Juan Capistrano Mayor Collene Campbell, improperly influenced a new L.A. Sheriff’s detective, Mark Lillienfeld, to seek prosecution in O.C.
Campbell’s influence, Harper claims, extended to O.C. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas,with whom Campbell had worked on victims-rights issues. It was T-Rack who first charged Goodwin, in 2001. An appellate court said O.C. didn’t have jurisdiction and threw out the charges. Then, L.A. County’s new D.A., Steve Cooley, decided to pick them up and file in his county’s court. Harper contends that but for the improper influence of Campbell in O.C., Goodwin would never have been charged and convicted in L.A.
A.G.’s Response. As to the detective, the A.G. says, once a crime occurred in a jurisdiction covered by his agency, he was authorized to pursue the case anywhere in the state.
Regarding Rackauckas, the A.G. says Harper’s allegations of an improper relationship or undue influence between Campbell and the D.A. were not supported by anything Harper submitted to the appellate court. Moreover, the A.G. indicated, even if the allegations were true, Goodwin wasn’t harmed by any undue influence on Rackauckas because he ultimately was not tried in O.C.
Issue Two: Illegal Raid? Harper also has challenged the search of Goodwin’s O.C. home office and the seizure of documents containing communications between Goodwin and his lawyers. Goodwin had put a sign on the door saying that privileged materials were inside, but the documents were seized anyway and ultimately read by Alan Jackson, one of the L.A. prosecutors. Jackson should have been removed from the case, Harper says, and the fact that the trial judge failed to do so is a reversible error.
A.G.’s Response. The A.G. attacks this contention on several fronts. For one thing, the A.G. says, Harper doesn’t identify any particular document that the defense believes resulted in prejudicing the case against Goodwin. She didn’t cite information the prosecutors used that aided them or hurt the defense.
Also, even if the documents were improperly seized, it wasn’t the L.A. D.A.’s office that was responsible for it but rather the O.C. D.A.’s office, which was working the case at the time and had rebuffed Goodwin’s attempt to protect the materials, and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, which carried out the search.
“For purposes of establishing outrageous governmental misconduct, there is no authority for attributing misconduct by law enforcement officers to unwitting prosecutors,” the A.G. wrote.
Published: Oct. 1, 2013 Updated: 7:11 p.m.
Mickadeit: Prosecution knocks appeal
By FRANK MICKADEIT COLUMNIST / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Yesterday: Responding to Michael Goodwin’s appeal of his conviction in the 1988 murders of legendary racer Mickey Thompson and his wife, Trudy, the state attorney general rebuts two of the Orange County-based grounds for appeal.
Goodwin’s attorney, Gail Harper, raised 27 grounds for appeal in her 472-page opening brief. I’m focusing on the four I find most interesting, although it’s impossible to know which, if any, the Court of Appeal will find persuasive. Today, we look at the two that were based on activities of the L.A.-based part of the investigation and trial.
Issue One: Late-arriving witnesses. Harper challenged the sufficiency of the only evidence that put Goodwin near the murder scene in Bradbury. A husband and wife testified that a few days before the murders they saw Goodwin sitting in a station wagon with binoculars along with another man who was never identified.
This, in my opinion, was some of the most important evidence of the 2007 trial.
The defense challenged the credibility of Ron and Tonyia Stevens because they didn’t make the identification of Goodwin until 13 years after the murders, when they were finally interviewed by a detective. That gap, along with several TV shows that featured Goodwin as a suspect, “destroyed any possible true memory of the men in the station wagon,” Harper wrote.
A.G.’s response: The A.G. defense to this largely rests on the principle that appellate courts generally look for legal errors by the trial judge. They usually don’t second-guess how juries weighed the credibility of witnesses.
For an appellate court to override the jury’s belief in a witness, the court must find the statement was a physical impossibility or the falsity must be apparent. That’s not the case with the Stevens’ testimony, the A.G. says, and points out that Harper didn’t attack the testimony on those grounds. Rather, Harper attacked the statements for being inconsistent between preliminary hearing and trial. There were inconsistencies, but the jury had a chance to sort that out through extensive cross-examination. It’s not the appellate court’s job to override the jury in that case, the A.G. says.
Issue Two: Mystery Suspects. Harper says that at trial Goodwin was wrongly deprived of the right to argue that men unrelated to Goodwin killed the Thompsons.
The defense theory was that a man named Larry Cowell wanted Mickey killed to prevent him from testifying against him in a murder trial. Cowell had supposedly hired a man named Kennedy who in turn supposedly hired three men – two shooters and one lookout.
Detectives had looked at a suspect named Joey Hunter, the purported lookout man, who had been seen on a bicycle several miles from the Thompson home within hours of the murders. He had failed a polygraph, given a false alibi and purportedly confessed to an acquaintance. The trial judge, Teri Schwartz, had forbidden Goodwin’s trial attorney, Elena Saris, from telling the jury about the whole Cowell-Hunter theory.
A.G.’s Response: A judge can allow third-party culpability evidence only if she finds evidence that links the third person to the crime. Motive or opportunity evidence is not enough. Before deciding to exclude the evidence, the A.G. says, Schwartz heard extensive argument that convinced her there was no link between Cowell, Kennedy, the two purported shooters and the crime.
As for Hunter, the A.G. says, he was only picked up because he matched the description of a person “frantically hitchhiking” two miles from the murder scene. Three of five witnesses failed to pick Hunter out of a lineup. The prosecutors presented Schwartz with “a detailed explanation” why the supposed confession was unreliable – although the response doesn’t say what that explanation was. As to the polygraph, that is inadmissible with no exceptions.
“In sum, the trial court acted well within its discretion” to bar the third-party culpability evidence because Saris had “raised nothing more than speculative inferences that third parties conspired to kill the Thompsons,” the A.G. says.
What’s next? Harper will file a rebuttal, which is at least two months out. My guess is we’re looking, at best, late 2014 for a ruling.