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Informant Is Key Figure in Fountain Valley Case : Texan Must Stand Trial in 1979 Slaying

Times Staff Writer

More than six years after the slaying of a Fountain Valley woman, a Municipal Court judge on Thursday tentatively ruled that William Lee Evins, the 30-year-old Texan accused in the crime, must stand trial for murder.

But Judge Dan C. Dutcher sidestepped the question of whether the key witness against Evins at the preliminary hearing, a jail informant named James Dean Cochrum, should be considered a credible witness.

Up to Superior Court

“Although I have opinions about Mr. Cochrum’s credibility, I am reluctant to foreclose the Superior Court deciding the issue,” Dutcher said.

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Evins was arrested at his Pasadena, Tex., home more than a year after the March 7, 1979, slaying of 28-year-old Joan Virginia Anderson, a mother of three. Evins, who had been living with friends in Orange County, was a member of a construction crew that was working on an addition to the Anderson home at the time of her death.

Cochrum, 24, testified that Evins confessed to him at the Orange County Jail that he killed Anderson. Defense attorneys kept Cochrum, an informant in four other Orange County murder cases, on the witness stand for five days in an attack on his credibility. Their closing argument, scheduled for today, would almost certainly have concentrated on Cochrum.

But Dutcher said he was issuing a tentative ruling, rare in preliminary hearings on murder charges, to help attorneys shape their closing arguments.

Dutcher said that Evins’ statements to police were sufficient for him to decide there was “strong suspicion” that Evins had killed the woman.

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2 Statements Cited

According to testimony, when two police investigators arrested Evins, he asked them: “What would happen if I copped a plea?” Also, Evins told investigators, “Something must have gone wrong or you guys wouldn’t be here.”

Dutcher must rule only on whether a “strong suspicion” exists that a defendant committed the crime. Prosecutors are aware that Evins’ statements to investigators are not sufficient in themselves to meet the “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of a criminal trial, and they have acknowledged that Cochrum’s testimony is critical to their case.

When Evins was arrested, the key witness against him was Randy Wanner, an acquaintance, who testified at a hearing in September, 1980, that Evins confessed to him that he killed Anderson.

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But the police had Wanner hypnotized in an attempt to elicit from him more details about Evins’ alleged confession. The state Supreme Court later excluded as evidence most testimony from hypnotized witnesses. The decision eliminated Wanner and left prosecutors wondering if they still had a case against Evins.

Remark About Inmate

But Cochrum told district attorney’s investigators in February, 1985, that he heard Evins say about another inmate, “He’s an idiot if he thinks I didn’t do it.” Cochrum said that Evins eventually told him about killing Anderson. Cochrum testified he inferred from what Evins told him that he had “choked her out.” Anderson had been strangled.

Dutcher told attorneys in the case that he did not need to decide the issue of Cochrum’s credibility because he had sufficient evidence to bind Evins over for trial without considering Cochrum’s testimony.

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Defense attorney William Kopeny said he will ask Dutcher to throw out Cochrum’s testimony.


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