Tuesday, June 2, 2015

John Williams’ incompetent testimony in the Mickey and Trudy Thompson murder case

     One of the more interesting So Cal murder cases of recent years was the brutal—and, for many years, unsolved—shooting of Mickey and Trudy Thompson in 1988.
     Who were they?
     Mickey Thompson was a well-known race car driver [see] who set a land speed record in his youth. By the 1980’s, Mr. Thompson was running a successful sports promotion company that sponsored indoor stadium races, principally with off-road, four-wheeled vehicles.
. . .
     In the early morning of March 16, 1988, [Thompson and his wife] … were shot and killed in the driveway of their Bradbury Estates [that’s in the city of Bradbury, which is northeast, in the San Gabriel Valley] home, as they were leaving for work, by two gunmen who left the scene on bicycles and were never apprehended. (From 1/26/15 Appellate Court Opinion)
Victims: Mickey & Trudy Thompson
     The crime remained unresolved for thirteen years. Then, in 2001, another sports promoter, one who had had a serious falling out with Thompson, was arrested for the murder (more specifically, for hiring hit men to kill the Thompsons. The hit men have never been identified).
     The trial of this promoter, Michael Frank Goodwin, was eventually moved from OC to LA County, where a jury convicted Goodwin of first degree murder in 2007.
     I recall seeing an episode of CBS’s 48 Hours Mystery about the case—evidently in July of 2008. (See 48 Hours Mystery: Murder In The Fast Lane.)
     Here are more particulars of the story:
     In the mid-80s, Goodwin and Thompson partnered on a project that went south, leaving Goodwin in financial straits. Goodwin blamed Thompson and sued him. In the end, Goodwin lost his suit, and he thus owed Thompson a large sum. Goodwin appealed the judgment but lost again. At that point, Goodwin, a notorious hot-head, spouted off many times about getting back at—and even killing—Thompson.
     Then, of course, the Thompsons were murdered.
     The case lingered, though many suspected Goodwin. In part owing to the efforts of Thompson's politically connected sister, the case came back to life in about 2000. Then, as I said, Goodwin was brought to trial and convicted in 2007.
Mr. Goodwin
     Goodwin appealed the verdict. His appeal made many assertions of impropriety and incompetence. The Appeals Court, however, was unimpressed and affirmed the 2007 verdict. Evidently, this occurred recently (judging by the filing date on the Opinion: 1/26/15).

Enter John Williams aka Orlando Boy
     Now, I do not doubt that Goodwin’s conviction was just. Goodwin very likely killed the Thompsons and deserves to be in prison. (Some disagree.And I don’t doubt the wisdom of the Appellate Court’s recent decision to affirm the 2007 judgment. Nevertheless, some embarrassing factoids about the prosecution’s case—or at least its witnesses—do come to light in the opinion. (Read it here.)
     —Embarrassing factoids especially about John Williams, the former SOCCCD trustee and County official (Public Administrator), who, as you’ll recall, resigned his trusteeship (in December of 2010) while battling pressures to resign his elected County gig amid charges of misconduct and incompetence. By 2012, he resigned his County post in disgrace.
     Evidently, at about that time, Williams' wife began battling breast cancer. She died late in 2014. (See Former SOCCCD trustee’s wife, Joann Williams dies.)
     DtB readers will recall that, back in the late 80s, Williams was an OC Deputy Marshal.
Corrupt, stupid, staunch
     During the trial, the prosecution presented numerous witnesses who testified that Goodwin had said threatening things re the Thompsons, and one of these witnesses was none other than former Deputy Marshal John Williams.
     Williams testified that, just three months prior to the murders (in 1988), he had encountered defendant Goodwin in the course of repossessing the latter’s Mercedes. According to Williams’ testimony, Goodwin said such things as, “Mickey Thompson is fucking dead. He doesn’t know who he’s fucking with.”
     Luckily, more reliable witnesses testified to similar disturbing remarks (such testimony seemed to be the heart of the prosecution's case). I say “luckily” because, in court, it was established that, contrary to Williams, the repossession occurred two years earlier—not “three months” prior to the murders.
     John Williams is a fuckhead.
     But you know that.
     I suggest that you read the Opinion for yourself. (Here: 1/26/15 Appellate Court Opinion.)
     Some excerpts:
Defendant’s Threats Against Mr. Thompson
a – j . . . k. John Williams [page 11]  
   John Williams was a deputy marshal in Orange County from 1986 through 1988. He was assigned to levy on defendant’s Mercedes automobile in connection with litigation involving Mickey Thompson. He went to defendant’s residence and, in the course of the removal of the Mercedes, defendant said, “Mickey Thompson is fucking dead. He doesn’t know who he’s fucking with.” Both defendant and his wife used an extraordinary amount of “vicious language” about Mr. Thompson, and both repeated that Mr. Thompson “was going to have something happen to him.” Mr. Williams reported the incident to his supervisor, and telephoned Mr. Thompson’s attorney to report the successful levy and the threatening comments.
     Mr. Williams testified that the incident occurred about three months before the Thompson murders, but documentation showed a writ to levy was issued on June 4, 1986; a levy worksheet was dated June 11, 1986; and a receipt for the towing service used for the defendant’s car was dated August 14, 1986. Mr. Williams, when shown these documents, continued to insist the incident did not occur in August 1986. (After the bankruptcies were filed in September and November 1986, Mr. Thompson would have been unable to levy on the Mercedes, and in January 1988, defendant surrendered his Mercedes to a representative of the bankruptcy trustee without incident.)

P. 61: Defendant’s claims of prejudice
. . . v. John Williams’s testimony about towing defendant’s Mercedes  
   Mr. Williams testified to defendant’s threats on Mr. Thompson’s life that occurred when Mr. Williams seized defendant’s Mercedes to collect on Mr. Thompson’s judgment. The documentation, including Mr. Williams’s notes of the altercation, were purged, so defendant could not impeach Mr. Williams with his own notes (to establish that the incident occurred in 1986, rather than shortly before the murders in 1988, and to establish that no altercation was noted). But defendant was able to produce other, undisputed evidence that the towing occurred in 1986 (a receipt from the towing company and other documentation). Mr. Williams was thoroughly cross-examined and impeached with the documents on the issue of when the levy occurred, so the purged notes would have been cumulative – and defendant’s claim that those notes did not mention an altercation is complete speculation. So any prejudice from loss of the notes was minimal.
. . .
The Prosecutorial Misconduct Claims (p. 128) a. Claims of misconduct in the prosecutor’s opening statement
iii. Deputy John Williams (p. 134)  
     Defendant next cites as misconduct this part of the prosecutor’s opening statement:
     “I told you about that prized Mercedes, that 1982 SL coupe. Mickey Thompson went after that as a personal asset. It was ultimately seized by authorities. We will introduce you to Deputy John Williams who is now a public official in Orange County; no longer a serving officer. But he is a serving public official, an elected official.
     “He will tell you that when he walked up to notify [defendant] that he was going to have to seize his car, he had legal documentation that entitled him, John Williams, to seize the car, [defendant] flew into one of his famous violent rages. He flew into a rage. He turned beet red. His neck got thick. Every vein on his face started sticking out. And he screamed, ‘He doesn’t know who he’s fucking with. He’s fucking dead . . . if he thinks he’s going to take my car. The car was, in fact, taken.”
     Defendant cites this as misconduct, saying the prosecutor “failed to prove [defendant] made threats in the presence of Deputy John Williams.” He is wrong. Mr. Williams testified just as the prosecutor said he would. But he also said his best recollection was that the incident occurred in late 1987 or early 1988, while other witnesses and documentation showed a levy occurred in June or July 1986. Defendant says Mr. Williams’s testimony was “false” because defendant was in bankruptcy since the fall of 1986, so the car could not have been seized in 1987 or 1988 to satisfy Mr. Thompson’s judgment. But mistaken testimony is not “false” testimony. (Indeed, Mr. Williams was adamant, even when confronted with evidence that a levy occurred in 1986, that the incident he described “did not occur in August of 1986,” and that he was “never told, even by the defendant, he was in bankruptcy or I wouldn’t have taken his car.”) There is simply no support for defendant’s assertion that the prosecutor “failed to prove [defendant] made threats in the presence of Deputy John Williams,” much less that the prosecutor’s opening statement was “knowingly false and made in bad faith” and a “deliberate misstatement.” There was no misconduct.
. . .
p. 145 
d. The claim of misconduct in closing argument
. . . p. 151 v. Vouching for witnesses 
     The prosecutor “is generally precluded from vouching for the credibility of her witnesses, or referring to evidence outside the record to bolster their credibility or attack that of the defendant.” (People v. Anderson (1990) 52 Cal.3d 453, 479.) Thus a prosecutor is not permitted “ ‘to place the prestige of [his] office behind a witness by offering the impression that [he] has taken steps to assure a witness’s truthfulness at trial. [Citation.] However, so long as a prosecutor’s assurances regarding the apparent honesty or reliability of prosecution witnesses are based on the “facts of [the] record and the inferences reasonably drawn therefrom, rather than any purported personal knowledge or belief,” [his] comments cannot be characterized as improper vouching. [Citations.]’ [Citation.]” (Ward, supra, 36 Cal.4th at p. 215.)
     Defendant contends the prosecutor vouched for the credibility of John Williams when he said the following, in rebuttal to defense counsel’s argument about     Mr. Williams’s testimony (including that the prosecutors “knew that John Williams was lying” and that “John Williams is just simply delusional”): “[Defense counsel] went on and on [about John Williams]. And I think she said that John Williams was delusional. [¶] Please as we talk this morning I’m going to ask you a number of times to think back and remember witnesses and how they testified on the stand. John Williams is an elected official in Orange County. A long time public servant. At the time of the repossession of the car, he was a deputy marshal in Orange County. . . . [¶] I don’t think anyone in this courtroom would argue with it, his dates were probably off by a year or so.” After describing his testimony, the prosecutor continued: “You saw this man on the stand. You’ll have to make that judgment. But I would submit to you that what he told you and how this went down and what [defendant] said about Mickey Thompson is absolutely true.”
     Once again, defense counsel posed no objection to the prosecutor’s remarks at trial, so the claim of misconduct is forfeited. In any event, the prosecutor’s statements were not improper vouching. Defendant says the prosecutor was “vouching about Williams’ status as an elected official and a marshal,” and “expressed his personal belief in Williams’ credibility.” But Mr. Williams testified that he was elected as the Orange County Public Administrator, and that he had been a deputy marshal, so the prosecutor’s remarks about his status were “ ‘based on the “facts of [the] record . . . rather than any purported personal knowledge or belief,” ’ ” so that comment “ ‘cannot be characterized as improper vouching.’ ” (Ward, supra, 36 Cal.4th at p. 215.)
     As for the prosecutor’s statement that he “would submit to you that what [Mr. Williams] told you . . . is absolutely true,” the prosecutor preceded that statement with a description of his testimony and with the proviso that “[y]ou’ll have to make that judgment.” Considered in context, this was not improper vouching. (See Ward, supra, 36 Cal.4th at p. 216 [there was no improper vouching where the prosecutor, referring to a witness’s testimony, said “ ‘The only thing I have ever told him is to tell the truth, nothing but the truth, and that’s what he did for you’ ”; the prosecutor “was no more than expressing his view of and reasonable inferences from the totality of the evidence”]; see also United States v. Necoechea (9th Cir. 1993) 986 F.2d 1273, 1279 [prosecutor stated, “ ‘I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, that she’s not lying. I submit to you that she’s telling the truth’ ”; the court concluded that “[t]hese ‘I submit’ statements do not constitute vouching,” and “do not imply that the government is assuring [the witness’s] veracity”].)     There was no misconduct here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Remember when he tried to get back on the board after he was fired by the county?

The Trumpian @ IVC

"If I am doing a business lunch, I like Javier’s. The food is fantastic and service is business schedule sensitive. It can be loud...