A Texas man, forced to wait in the Orange County Jail for five years without a trial because of a state Supreme Court ruling, has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the 1979 slaying of a 28-year-old Fountain Valley woman.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard J. Beacom immediately sentenced William Lee Evins, 30, to 15 years to life in prison. The plea, entered Friday after an agreement between Evins and the district attorney's office, came just a few days before Evins' trial was expected to begin.
Joan Virginia Anderson, a mother of three, was strangled and beaten with a hammer at her Fountain Valley home on March 7, 1979. Evins, part of a work crew building an addition to the Anderson house, was a suspect from the beginning. But he was not arrested until 17 months later--at his Pasadena, Tex., home--after an acquaintance of Evins told police that Evins had confessed the crime to him.
The acquaintance, Randy Wanner, testified against Evins at a preliminary hearing in September, 1980, and was expected to be the key witness against him at his trial.
But Wanner had been hypnotized by police to help him recall details of the confession. Appeals by Evins' attorneys held up his trial until the state Supreme Court issued its 1982 ruling eliminating most testimony from hypnotized witnesses. A year later the ruling was applied to Evins' case, eliminating Wanner.
But prosecutors came up with another witness against Evins eight months ago, a jail-house informant named James D. Cochrum, who told police Evins confessed to him. Cochrum eventually testified at a second preliminary hearing for Evins and was expected to be the new key witness against him at his trial.
Defense attorneys questioned Cochrum's credibility and kept him on the witness stand for five days during a preliminary hearing in June. At the time, Cochrum was an informant in four other Orange County murder cases.
Evins, frustrated last year that he still had not received a trial after four years in jail, told The Times: "I've always (maintained) that I am innocent, and I think we'll prove that before it's over with."
Neither Deputy Dist. Atty. John Conley, who has been the prosecutor on the Evins' case for four years, or Evins' attorneys, William Kopeny of Santa Ana and Deputy Public Defender William Kelly, were available for comment.
By pleading guilty, Evins avoided a possible first-degree murder conviction, which carries a 25 years to life sentence. Evins will be given credit for the five years he has already served.