Mitchell Carleton Sims and his girlfriend robbed and murdered a Glendale pizza deliveryman for money and the “sadistic pleasure of committing crimes,” a prosecuting attorney told a Pasadena Superior Court jury this week during opening arguments in the South Carolina man’s trial.
Sims and companion Ruby Carolyn Padgett “carefully and meticulously planned” the Dec. 9, 1985, motel-room slaying of John Steven Harrigan, 21, a Domino’s Pizza deliveryman, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Terry A. Green.
Testimony began Monday morning. The trial is expected to last six weeks.
“Some crimes are committed on the spur of the moment, but not here,” Green told the jury. “A great deal of effort went into killing John Harrigan.”
Sims, 26, is charged with one count of first-degree murder and one count of armed robbery in the strangulation and drowning of Harrigan. Police found Harrigan’s hog-tied body submerged in the motel-room bathtub. A washcloth had been stuffed in his mouth and a pillowcase tied over his head.
Sims also is charged with two counts of robbery and attempted murder in an assault against two of Harrigan’s co-workers at the Brand Boulevard pizza establishment later that night.
If convicted of the murder charge, Sims faces a death sentence because of a special allegation that Harrigan was killed during a robbery. Green said he is seeking the maximum penalty against Sims because of evidence linking him to the murders in South Carolina of two other Domino’s Pizza employees less than a week before Harrigan’s murder.
Padgett, 21, was convicted in February of first-degree murder and robbery. She is scheduled to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors said they did not seek the death penalty against Padgett because of her age and lack of a prior criminal record.
Throughout her seven-week trial, Padgett insisted that she was just an unwilling observer of the crimes committed by Sims. The couple was arrested in Las Vegas on Christmas Day, 1985.
Green told jurors that Sims, following a well-orchestrated plan that was “executed with precision,” ordered a pizza delivered to the Regalodge Motel in Glendale with the intent of robbing and killing Harrigan. “When John Harrigan innocently walked into the room with the pizza he was delivering, he was quickly overpowered,” Green said. “The trap was sprung and he was murdered.”
Defense attorney Morton P. Borenstein waived opening remarks, saying that the burden of proof lies with the prosecution.
“I don’t have to prove anything,” he told reporters.
Following opening arguments, the first evidence presented was a 17-minute videotape recorded by police at the motel room several hours after Harrigan’s death. The videotape, narrated by Glendale homicide detective Jon Perkins, showed coroner’s officials pulling Harrigan’s body out of the bathtub and removing the pillowcase from his head.
Sims, dressed neatly in a gray sweater and slacks, turned to look at the jury on several occasions during the viewing, but showed no emotion.
After murdering Harrigan, Sims--wearing Harrigan’s Domino’s Pizza T-shirt and name tag--drove Harrigan’s pick-up truck nine blocks to the Glendale pizza parlor, Green told the jury. Sims robbed Harrigan’s co-workers, Kory Spiroff and Edmund Sicam, then tied them to metal racks in a frozen-food locker in such a way that the men had to stand on their tiptoes to prevent strangulation, the prosecutor said.
In testimony Wednesday, Sicam told jurors that Sims and Padgett walked into the pizza store about 11:45 p.m. “I said, ‘Yes, can I help you?’ He said, ‘Yes, you may’ and pulled out a gun with a smile on his face,” Sicam said.
Under questioning this week by Green, Spiroff told jurors that during the robbery an off-duty employee, Richard Wagner, and his wife walked into the restaurant with the intent of delivering some furniture to Spiroff.
Spiroff said he pretended not to recognize Wagner and asked him for his pizza order as if Wagner were a customer. Sims then walked out of the back office in Harrigan’s uniform, took an order by telephone and carried the Wagner’s cooked pizza to their car.
Wagner has told authorities that, suspecting something was amiss, he called the store manager who telephoned police.
After the Wagners drove away, Sims ordered Spiroff and Sicam into the food locker where he tied their wrists together behind their backs, looped the rope over the top food rack, pulled it down in a pully fashion and wrapped the rope twice around their necks, Spiroff said.
Spiroff said he was in pain and complained to Sims who said, “Shut up. At least you’re alive.”
The two men were unable to untie each other’s hands and remained tied up until police found them, Spiroff testified.
Upon completion of the trial here, Sims will be extradited to South Carolina to face murder charges in connection with the shooting deaths of two Domino’s Pizza employees in Hanahan, a suburb of Charlston, six day’s be fore Harrigan’s murder. One of the victims in that attack recognized Sims as a former Domino’s employee and lived long enough to identify Sims as the assailant.
South Carolina authorities are seeking the death penalty against Sims.