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Testimony of Witness for Troiani Questioned With Jurors Absent

Times Staff Writer

Laura Troiani’s murder defense began Thursday in Vista Superior Court with a witness who ended up testifying outside the jury’s presence because what he had to say may be ruled irrelevant by Judge Gilbert Nares.

Mark Daugherty testified that Marine Staff Sgt. Carlo Troiani, who was shot to death three years ago, was a true but sometimes obnoxious Marine who loved his wife.

Laura Troiani is on trial for her husband’s killing by allegedly hiring five Marines for $500 each to murder him so she could collect his insurance benefits and marry a secret lover.

Defense attorney Geraldine Russell says her strategy will be to show that Laura Troiani, now 26, was an impressionable young lady who unwittingly got caught up in the thrill-seeking of five violent Marines. Russell said Thursday, outside the courtroom, that she also will present witnesses who will testify that Carlo Troiani, 37, physically and mentally abused his wife of five years, and that she badly wanted out of the marriage for her own safety and welfare.

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Daugherty, the defense’s first witness, was a Marine master sergeant and Carlo Troiani’s supervisor when Troiani was a Marine recruiter in Tacoma, Wash., from 1976 through 1979.

Dated Evidence?

But prosecutors argued in chambers that Daugherty’s testimony was irreverent because his working relationship with Troiani ended a full five years before Troiani was slain, and thus was too dated to be of use to the jury.

Since Daugherty could only be in court on Thursday because of a job commitment in Portland, where he currently is a college admissions director, Nares ruled that Daugherty could testify outside the jury’s presence while he was in town, and that attorneys for both sides could argue later whether his testimony should be admitted into evidence.

Daugherty said Troiani “was probably the proudest individual I ever met in the Marine Corps” and worked “more aggressively” at his recruiting job than others to prove his self-worth. That need existed, Daugherty said, because Troiani entered the Marine Corps as a reservist after having previously served in the Navy and, thus, avoided boot camp, which made him a target of jokes and ridicule from those who had gone through the grueling indoctrination into the service.

Daugherty said the pressures on Marine Corps recruiters were great because of quotas to be met, and that Troiani sometimes displayed a quick temper.

“There were times when he would fly off the handle and become somewhat obnoxious,” Daugherty said. “Obnoxiousness was something you had to put up with when dealing with Sgt. Troiani.”

Furthermore, Daugherty said, Troiani had a “drinking problem,” and had tried to hide a liquor bottle in his desk. He added, “Believe me, we all blew off steam at the end of the month.”

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Under cross-examination by the prosecution, Daugherty described Troiani as “the proudest” of Marines and that, despite his shortcomings, Troiani was a good friend.

“Was it clear he loved his wife?” Deputy Dist. Atty. Paul Pfingst asked.

“Yes,” Daugherty answered, noting that the couple was married in a formal Marine Corps full-dress wedding complete with a walk beneath an arch of swords.

During the discussion about the wedding, Russell reached around and held Laura Troiani, who leaned toward her attorney.

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Main Witness

Russell said her main defense witness on Monday, when the trial resumes, will be a linguistics expert who will analyze Laura Troiani’s interrogation by Oceanside homicide detectives hours after her husband’s body was discovered. The purpose of his testimony, she said, is to analyze “the meaning of the words” used by Troiani when she was quizzed by detectives and ultimately admitted agreeing to hire three of them for $500 each to kill her husband. She told police at the time she had second thoughts on her decision, but was unable to stop the plan.

Other defense witnesses, she said, will testify as to Carlo Troiani’s character and temperament in an attempt by the defense to color the man as a wife abuser.

The defense also hopes to allow testimony from witnesses as to the character of the five Marines in an attempt to show their “propensity for violence” and how Laura Troiani was caught up in their actions, Russell said.

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Russell said the defense case will take about two weeks.


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