Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Court of Appeal Upholds Conviction in Killing of Off-Road Racer Mickey Thompson and Wife
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday affirmed the conviction of Michael Goodwin for the murders of motorsports pioneer Mickey Thompson and his wife Trudy.
In this file photo, Michael Goodwin looks down as the verdict is read in his trial in Pasadena.
Justice Elizabeth Grimes, in an unpublished opinion for Div. Eight, rejected all of Goodwin’s claims of error, including allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and insufficiency of the evidence.
Goodwin, 69, is serving life in prison without parole in the 1988 slayings.
The Thompsons were slain at their Bradbury home. Witnesses saw two men ride away from the scene on bicycles, but they were never identified.
Investigators in both Orange and Los Angeles counties focused almost immediately on Goodwin, whose brief partnership with Thompson ended with a lawsuit and judgment for more than $500,000—which became nearly $800,000 when prejudgment interest and attorney fees were added—against Goodwin.
Forced Into Bankruptcy
Goodwin’s company was forced into bankruptcy and lost opportunities to promote events at the Rose Bowl and Anaheim Stadium—which Goodwin had done in the past—to Thompson.
Los Angeles Sheriff’s Detective Mark Lillienfeld led his office’s investigation into the case, and sought to have Goodwin charged in 1998. After Los Angeles prosecutors declined, he took the evidence to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, which obtained an indictment in 2001 after a raid on Goodwin’s home.
The theory of venue was that the murder was planned in Orange County, but this district’s Court of Appeal disagreed and ordered dismissal. But in 2004, after Steve Cooley became district attorney, charges were brought in Los Angeles County, and the case came to trial two years later.
On appeal, the defense claimed that Los Angeles prosecutors, led by Deputy District Attorneys Alan Jackson and Pat Dixon, should have been recused for “outrageous” misconduct because they read privileged communications between Goodwin and his lawyers, which were seized in the raid.
Goodwin had clearly marked the door of his office with a sign that said files inside contained such communications and telling the police to call his attorney.
Superior Court Judge Teri Schwartz denied a recusal motion after the prosecutors agreed not to use the materials.
Grimes, writing for the appeals court, concluded that the Los Angeles prosecutors had done nothing wrong, that they could not be held responsible for misconduct by their colleagues in another agency, and that the defense had shown no prejudice.
The justice went on to say that, even though there was no evidence directly linking Goodwin to the never-identified shooters, there was enough circumstantial evidence to show that he conspired with them to kill the Thompsons.
“The Thompsons were killed in a carefully planned operation for which there was no robbery or other motive…,” the justice wrote. “Defendant was present in the neighborhood with binoculars and another person a few days before the murders….The shooters knew where and when to find the Thompsons, how to get to their house, and how best to escape the scene…Defendant repeatedly threatened to kill Mickey Thompson and hurt his family…and indeed made statements to two witnesses about the cost involved in having Mr. Thompson killed…and told others he was too smart to get caught….These facts were placed in evidence, and the jury could properly infer from them that defendant agreed with the shooters to commit the murders.”
Attorneys on appeal were Gail Harper, by appointment, for the defendant and Deputy Attorneys General Michael R. Johnsen and Louis W. Karlin for the prosecution.
Thompson became a legend in the 1950s, when he was known as the Speed King. The holder of nearly 500 land speed records, he became the first person to break 400 mile per hour on the ground in 1960.
He then turned his attention to speed boats, until he was seriously injured in a crash.
Thompson built and raced top-fuel dragsters, then pioneered off-road desert racing in Baja California then came up with the idea of moving off-road racing to stadiums and making it a spectator sport.
The case is People v. Goodwin, B197574.
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company