5 Marines, Widow to Stand Trial for Murder

Times Staff Writer

Laura Troiani and five Marines who allegedly were hired by her were ordered on Friday to stand trial for ambush murder in the slaying of her husband in Oceanside last summer.

The San Diego County district attorney's office said it will seek the death penalty for each of the six if they are convicted of the murder-for-hire scheme.

Municipal Court Judge Luther Leeger ordered them to face trial in Superior Court after presiding over a 16-week preliminary hearing, much of it behind closed doors, at the insistence of defense attorneys. The preliminary hearing, in which the prosecution put on 59 witnesses and 56 exhibits, was said by attorneys in the case to be the longest in San Diego County's history.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Larry Burns, who presented the prosecution's case, characterized Leeger's ruling Friday as a "clean sweep" for the district attorney's office.

Facing arraignment April 5 in Vista Superior Court are Troiani, 23, and Marines Mark J. Schulz, 19, accused of being the triggerman; Russell A. Harrison, 20; Russell E. Sanders, 21; Kevin W. Watkins, 19, and Jeffrey T. Mizner, 21, who was characterized as intent on marrying Troiani and who allegedly was responsible for recruiting the others.

All six were ordered held without bail in the Vista jail, where they have been since their arrests shortly after the murder.

Troiani allegedly hired the Marines to kill her husband of five years, Marine Staff Sgt. Carlo Troiani, 37. Carlo Troiani was shot twice with a handgun after midnight on Aug. 10 on North River Road, in a rural area of eastern Oceanside, not far from Camp Pendleton's back gate.

The prosecution alleges that Troiani, unhappily married to her husband, promised to pay each of the five Marines $500 to kill her spouse, using the proceeds of his life insurance policy.

This was the scenario alleged by prosecutors: After three bungled attempts earlier in the week, Carlo Troiani was finally killed when he was lured to the North River Road site after receiving a phone call from Sanders saying Laura Troiani was having car problems. Carlo Troiani drove to the scene, got out of his car and approached his wife's car as she sat behind the steering wheel. Schulz, who had been hiding with Harrison in rushes along the roadway, shot Troiani once with a .357 Magnum handgun. As Troiani yelled out in anguish and tried to crawl beneath his wife's car, he was shot a second time in the back of the neck.

The prosecution alleges that at the time of the shooting, Mizner was caring for Troiani's two young children, and Sanders and Watkins were waiting at a nearby convenience store. After the killing, Watkins ferried the other Marines back to base on his motorcycle and Troiani returned to her apartment in Vista. Twice shortly afterwards, she called Oceanside police, expressing concern for the safety of her missing husband and suggesting that he could be found on North River Road. Police had already found his body but did not tell her.

The district attorney's office initially said it would seek the death penalty for all but Watkins and Sanders, but on Friday Leeger said prosecutors could file "special circumstances" against those two as well.

Burns said the death penalty would be sought for all six because they were involved in murder for financial gain and were "lying in wait" to ambush their victim, both of which qualify as "special circumstances."

Defense attorneys said they will seek separate trials for their clients, and request that the case be moved from Vista because of the amount of publicity it has generated in North San Diego County.

Burns said the trial likely would last longer than the preliminary hearing, not only because of the time it will take to select a jury willing to hear the capital case, but also because "we will have 12 persons, plus two alternates, to convince, rather than just one (Leeger). So we'll have to go at a slower pace."

Burns said that even though much of the preliminary hearing was conducted behind closed doors, the most damning testimony came from a witness who testified at a public session.

That witness, Kim Hartmann, testified that she accompanied the defendants in a foiled attempt to kill Troiani on Aug. 6.

That evening, Hartmann testified, the six went bar hopping at Camp Pendleton, plotting strategy in which Laura Troiani was to call her husband from a pay phone, claiming to have car trouble in Carlsbad and asking for him to pick her up. When he left the apartment, the Marines were going to jump him, Hartmann said. And while the Marines were driving back to Vista, one of them was sharpening a knife, she said.

But after Laura Troiani made the call from a nearby pay phone, her husband left the apartment accompanied by a friend, and the defendants scuttled the plan, Hartmann said.

Hartmann said Laura Troiani was emotionless during the scheming, and refused to call it off even though "I told her what a mortal sin it was to do what she was going to do."

Hartmann said that after Troiani made the baiting call on Aug. 6, "I told her it wasn't too late to call Carlo back and tell him she got the car started, and not to leave (the apartment). But she said, 'Nope, I gotta get it over with.' "

Hartmann, 28, said she struck up a friendship with Laura Troiani after moving into the same apartment complex the month before. "She said she was very unhappy in her marriage . . . couldn't stand him. She said she wanted him killed," Hartmann testified in court.

Hartmann said she thought that Troiani was kidding, even as the conversations grew more serious. Hartmann said that finally, on the night of the first attempted murder, she protested. "I brought up religion, how they'd go to hell if they did this and there was no way they could get away with it."

Prosecutor Burns said Hartmann's testimony was the most crucial of any one person's because Hartmann witnessed "virtually a dry run of what actually happened on Aug. 10. Were it not for the fortuitous event that a friend accompanied him, in all likelihood Carlo Troiani would have been killed that Monday."

The prosecution alleged that besides having tried to kill Troiani on Aug. 6, the defendants the next night unsuccessfully rigged a bomb to his car in an attempt to kill him. And, on the night of Aug. 9--the eve of the murder--Watkins and Schulz walked to Troiani's apartment, intent on stabbing and shooting him, according to prosecution witness Lance Cpl. Rodney Tomey, who said the event was related to him by Watkins.

Tomey said Watkins told him he could not carry out the stabbing because after having talked to Troiani at the front door, he "felt he didn't have anything against this guy and he couldn't do it."

Other witnesses testified during the preliminary hearing that Mizner and Schulz boasted about the plot both before and after it was carried out.

One witness, Joseph Hickman, said Mizner boasted within hours after the killing that "it was fun" and that he "liked it."

"He said he could finally get some sleep now," Hickman said.

And another witness, Marine Cpl. Marty Gunter, a friend of the Troianis, said he talked to Laura Troiani by phone after she was arrested by Oceanside police and put in jail.

Gunter said he asked Troiani if her husband suffered, and "she said, 'Not maybe more than two or three minutes.' "

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