A former Los Angeles police detective was convicted of first-degree murder Tuesday for the contract killing of a Northridge businessman whose body has never been found.
Richard Herman Ford, 48, of Northridge was convicted by a Van Nuys Superior Court jury of killing businessman Thomas Weed five years ago. Ford was paid $20,000 by Weed’s former wife, who testified at the trial that she wanted Weed killed because she believed he was stealing money from, and trying to gain control of, an allergy business the couple owned in Northridge.
The jury deliberated seven days before convicting Ford of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. He faces a possible death sentence because the case involved the special circumstance of killing for monetary gain.
Ford’s alleged partner in the crime, former Los Angeles Police Officer Robert Anthony Von Villas, is on trial before a separate jury. Both men were assigned to the department’s Devonshire Division at the time of their arrests on July 7, 1983. Authorities said they committed a series of crimes in their off-duty hours.
Ford looked down and shook his head as the verdict was read. He then shook hands with his two lawyers, flashed a thumbs-up sign at his wife and blew her a kiss.
Neither Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert P. O’Neill nor Ford’s two attorneys would comment. Jurors have been prohibited by the judge from talking until after the penalty phase of the trial, scheduled to begin Oct. 31.
“Good,” Los Angeles police spokesman Cmdr. William Booth said of the verdict.
The conviction was the second this year for Ford. He and Von Villas, 44, of Simi Valley, were sentenced in March to 35 years to life in prison for attempting to murder Granada Hills exotic dancer Joan Loguercio in 1983 to collect a $100,000 life insurance policy and for robbing a Northridge jewelry store in 1982.
Weed disappeared from his Northridge apartment Feb. 23, 1983. Prosecutors said the two officers murdered him and buried the body in the desert. Weed’s car was later found abandoned in a parking lot at Los Angeles International Airport.
Weed’s former wife, Janie E. Ogilvie, 45, of Canoga Park, testified in the four-month trial that the two officers came to her home in January, 1983, wearing wigs and makeup, after she told a friend she wanted to hire someone for the killing.
Ogilvie quoted Von Villas as saying her husband would “just disappear. He’ll vanish. There’s a lot of desert between here and Las Vegas.”
The prosecutor introduced as evidence a 1983 calendar seized from Ford’s house with the date Feb. 23 blacked out and a recording of a Dec. 20, 1983, conversation between Ford and his wife in the Los Angeles County jail. In that conversation, which was taped secretly, Ford said he was worried about police finding a shotgun. He also said, “There’s no body.”
Ford’s attorney, Richard P. Lasting, contended in the trial that there is no evidence Weed is dead. He said Weed may have quietly fled in fear of his life after learning that Ogilvie was seeking to kill him.
And if Weed is dead, Lasting said, all evidence links Von Villas, not Ford, to his death.
The former policemen, who resigned after their arrests, were ordered tried separately because of their differing defenses. The prosecution presented most of its case, however, before both juries at the same time.
Ogilvie, who originally faced charges of murder that could have brought her the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole, was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser offense of second-degree murder because she cooperated with prosecutors.
The trial is being held before Superior Court Judge Darlene E. Schempp.