Turk Convicted of Manslaughter : Victim Was Never Found, but the Jury Was Convinced

Times Staff Writer

Last July, Marshall Sowder, a retired Hollywood resident, was scheduled to fly to Hawaii for a long-planned, three-month vacation.

But Sowder, 67, never picked up his plane tickets, never checked into his hotel and has never returned to his modest one-bedroom apartment on Carlton Way.

The only physical evidence of the fate of the former steel company executive are the bloodstains--matching his blood type--that were found by police in his living room and bedroom last October.

On Friday, Sowder’s disappearance was resolved to the satisfaction of a Los Angeles Superior Court jury, which found Musa Has, a 20-year-old Turkish national, guilty of voluntary manslaughter.


Homosexual Affair Cited

Has, who came to America in April, 1984, ostensibly to visit pen pals, told authorities he was picked up by Sowder on Hollywood Boulevard last spring and the two engaged in a homosexual affair. Has eventually moved into Sowder’s apartment before the retiree’s disappearance and continued to live there until friends and relatives, suspicious of Sowder’s prolonged absence, asked authorities to investigate.

When Has was arrested, he was carrying forged California drivers’ licenses in the names of Sowder and a second man, about 20 years old, whose obituary had been published in local newspapers about the time Has was applying for the license.

“He was using Sowder’s identification to liquidate his assets,” Los Angeles Police Detective Rick Jackson said. And once he had drained Sowder’s bank accounts, Jackson theorized, Has would have escaped using the other identification.


Greed Led to Capture

Deputy Dist. Atty. Raymond D. Mireles attributed Has’ capture to greed. If he had not waited until Sowder was scheduled to return home before leaving town, the prosecutor said, Has might never have been caught. He stayed too long, Mireles said, in order to use up more of Sowder’s money.

Has, who also was found guilty of four counts of forgery, two counts of perjury and single counts of grand theft and driving a car without the owner’s consent, wept after the verdict was read. Judge Michael A. Tynan scheduled sentencing for June 28.

During the trial, Has’ public defender, Marilynn A. Van Dam, argued that the evidence was too sketchy for a conviction.


“Maybe (Sowder) went to Mexico, maybe he won $1 million,” said Van Dam, who will appeal the verdict. “It does happen. You’ve got a missing man; it’s kind of suspicious. . . . (But) it’s wrong to convict a man of a crime if he’s the wrong man. Here, we don’t even know if there’s a crime.”

Suspect’s Suggestion

Has testified that Sowder had suggested he obtain the fake driver’s licenses and other identification.

“He (Sowder) said in that way you’ll be able to use my credit card, drive my car and cash some checks when you need it.”


Mireles countered that Sowder was a creature of habit who would never leave for a lengthy period--particularly without seeking a refund on his plane tickets--without notifying relatives. Sowder had lived in the same apartment for 20 years.

Pointing to Has’ forgeries, his use of Sowder’s bank accounts and the bloodstains, the prosecutor told the jury that the only possible conclusion was that Has killed Sowder.

‘A Cohesive Whole’

‘You have to take all the strings and make it a cohesive whole,” he emphasized. “The defense concludes maybe Marshall Sowder will come walking through the door (again). . . . Well, with the evidence, I suspect that if Marshall Sowder comes walking through the door, he’ll be walking hand in hand with Jimmy Hoffa.”


Jury foreman J. L. Moore, 59, of Glendale said the verdict--in which jurors first rejected a second-degree murder conviction because of a lack of evidence that the killing had been planned--was reached mainly because of Has’ own testimony.

During the trial, Has said he had received calls and post cards from Sowder from Hawaii after mid-July, when the killing allegedly occurred.

Due to that testimony, said Moore, an engineer at Lockheed, Has “pretty well eliminated anyone else from being a suspect.”