It was known as the Ninja murders.
After Gerald and Vera Woodman were killed gangland-style in an underground Brentwood garage in 1985, a witness reported that at least one gunman was dressed in the martial-arts garb worn by Japanese warriors.
Later, however, the case took an even more sensational turn. Two of the victims' sons were charged with hiring hit men to have their parents killed so that they could collect on a $500,000 insurance policy.
It has been two years since Neil and Stewart Woodman were arrested in the murders of their parents, yet the case is nowhere near trial.
Since November, 1986, both sides have been waiting for the Court of Appeal to act on a defense petition accusing the prosecutor and a judge of improperly meeting in secret with a key witness and later allowing him to perjure himself.
If the appellate court decides that Los Angeles Municipal Judge Sandy R. Kriegler erred, the case will have to be dismissed and refiled, and the monthlong preliminary hearing held in the spring of 1986 will have to be repeated.
To the prosecution, the issue is a red herring, because the judge was not deceived by the witness' misstatements in court, and the defense eventually
received a transcript of the secret hearing.
But defense attorneys say they were illegally deprived of information they needed to properly cross-examine the witness and discredit his testimony. They also believe an important principle is at stake.
Gerald Woodman, 67, and his wife, Vera, 63, were killed in a hail of bullets on Sept. 25, 1985, as they were returning home from a meal marking the end of Yom Kippur. One of the gunmen apparently wore a black-hooded sweat shirt, which accounted for the misleading Ninja description. Neil Woodman, 44, and his brother, Stewart, 38, were arrested March 11, 1986, and accused of hiring another pair of brothers, Steven and Robert Homick, to murder their parents. All four, plus another defendant, pleaded not guilty and have been held in jail without bail since their arrests.
One Guilty Plea
A sixth man pleaded guilty to murder and testified for the prosecution at the preliminary hearing.
Another witness was former bingo parlor manager and convicted felon Stewart Siegel, who testified that Steven Homick told him that he was going to be paid by the Woodman brothers to commit a murder.
Siegel acknowledged that he was awaiting sentencing in a separate grand theft case and hoped to receive a lighter sentence in exchange for his testimony. He denied, however, that he had ever been a paid government informant.
But in an earlier meeting in Kriegler's chambers, Siegel disclosed that for several years he had worked as an informant for the FBI and the New Jersey Gaming Commission.
Kriegler decided to withhold this information from the defense on grounds that it "would constitute a clear danger to Mr. Siegel's well-being."
Gerald Chaleff, Neil Woodman's attorney, said he believes that the prosecutor and judge acted in a fraudulent manner by not forcing Siegel to be truthful.
The Court of Appeal decision is due by May.
Meanwhile, one family member said the long delay is taking a heavy toll.
"It's hard to put something behind you when . . . you're thinking about having to relive it all over again, which you have to do when you go to trial," said Gloria Karns, a sister of Vera Woodman. "It's with me all the time."