A juror in the Night Stalker trial was found shot to death in her Carson apartment Monday, the apparent victim of a domestic quarrel unrelated to the serial-murder case now being deliberated, authorities said.
Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies said Monday night they were seeking for questioning James Cecil Melton, 51, who shared the apartment with the victim, Phyllis Yvonne Singletary, 30.
"Apparently she (Singletary) suffered a physical beating prior to being shot" multiple times, sheriff's Deputy Bill Wehner said. "Based on the physical evidence at the location, as well as witness information, we were able to more or less determine that her death was a result of a domestic dispute between her and her live-in boyfriend, James Melton."
Neighbors Heard Shots
Several neighbors said they had heard loud voices--and then gunshots--apparently emanating from the apartment Friday night. But no one called police.
Melton allegedly sped off in a late-model, gray Cadillac Coupe De Ville with a license plate reading "BOSHOG3." He was described by authorities as black, 5 feet, 10 inches tall, 160 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes.
Singletary's body was found Monday afternoon by law enforcement officials who went to her home in the 20500 block of Campaign Drive after she failed to appear at 9:30 a.m. to join the other 11 jurors in deliberating the fate of defendant Richard Ramirez. Earlier in the day, court officials had tried unsuccessfully to reach Singletary by phone.
Singletary's death interrupted deliberations in the much-delayed trial of Ramirez, an accused residential burglar who allegedly murdered 13 people throughout Los Angeles County, mostly in the spring and summer of 1985.
Superior Court Judge Michael A. Tynan, who has presided over the six-month trial, on Monday ordered all court personnel--including lawyers in the case--not to discuss Singletary's death. And Tynan declined to be interviewed.
Without telling them of their missing colleague's fate, Tynan on Monday, as he has throughout the trial, dismissed the jurors and eight alternates for the day at 3:15 p.m. with the admonishment not to expose themselves to any media reports on the case.
Legal experts said it is unclear what effect Singletary's death might have on the case, although two options appear available to Tynan.
They said the judge could replace Singletary with one of the eight alternate jurors--and perhaps sequester them from now on in order to alleviate any undue concerns on their part. The other option, they said, would be to grant a motion for a mistrial, if sought by Ramirez's lawyers, and then to start the trial anew.
"Whatever the facts of the case (Singletary's killing), the impact would be stunning on the other jurors. But it doesn't automatically mean a mistrial," said Gerald Uelmen, dean of the Santa Clara University College of Law.
A Superior Court judge in the downtown Criminal Courts Building, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed with Uelmen's assessment, as did Assistant Dist. Atty. Curt Livesay.
"If a juror becomes unavailable, we look to the judge to select one of the alternate jurors to become a member of the first 12," Livesay said. "And deliberations would start anew, with the jury considering evidence from the beginning and proceeding with the same duty the original 12 had."
The Superior Court judge added: "I don't mean to sound cold. But it's like any other situation where you have to replace a juror with an alternate."
Among those who went to the scene of the killing Monday were Deputy Dist. Atty. Phil Halpin, the chief prosecutor in the case, and sheriff's homicide Detective Frank Salerno, who directed the areawide law enforcement Night Stalker task force four years ago.
A shotgun and several handguns were removed from Singletary's apartment, according to sheriff's deputies on the scene, who added that they were seeking her male roommate for questioning.
Singletary was employed as a Pacific Bell service representative and worked in the billings department in Tustin.
She arrived in California from Texas in 1981 and still has relatives in El Paso, according to her testimony during jury selection.
By coincidence, Ramirez, 29, also is from El Paso.
There were conflicting initial estimates of when Singletary died.
Coroner's Deputy Scott Carrier said Singletary appeared to have been dead "for quite some time."
But other officials on the scene said Singletary may have been killed within 24 hours of the discovery of her body.
Several neighbors at the El Cordova Apartments, where Singletary had lived for about two years, said they heard a loud argument between her and a man that began about 10 p.m. Friday and continued until about 2 a.m. Saturday.
Two neighbors specifically said they heard several gunshots on Friday night.
Denise Saxton, 37, a legal secretary, said she heard three or four shots.
"Noises like that are pretty prevalent around here sometimes," added another neighbor, James Bennings, explaining why he did not call police.
But others who live nearby said they heard nothing.
The owner of a nearby car wash, where Singletary had worked on weekends during the past year, said he was surprised when the woman did not appear for work Saturday morning.
"It didn't fit for her not to call," the owner said. "I didn't understand it."
Another neighbor, a woman who asked that her name not be used, said she talked to Melton on Saturday and he appeared to be angry.
"(He said) his car had been broken into. He was really furious about it. I told him, 'Jim, you are working yourself into a rage' . . . I had the feeling he was ready to burst," she said.
Dan Payne, another resident of the complex, said he saw Melton and his son, along with another man, on the apartment house's common lawn Sunday.
Lidell R. Gray, chairman of the complex's community watch program, said he went to Singletary's apartment on Monday morning to give her a flyer announcing a community watch meeting on Wednesday. Gray said Melton answered the door.
"He was standing there, looking wild as the dickens," Gray said.
The Night Stalker jury heard six months of testimony and had begun deliberating July 26.
But just last Friday, the deliberations had to begin anew after Tynan dismissed a juror who had fallen asleep twice during the deliberations and replaced him with an alternate.
Singletary had told Tynan and the lawyers last December, during jury selection, that she once was married to a cocaine user who later went to a rehabilitation center.
She said she was robbed one Sunday afternoon about six years ago while waiting in a car for a friend who had gone into a convenience store. The gunman had appeared inexperienced because, she said, he allowed her to reach into her purse to fetch her money.
"I only gave him what I wanted him to have," Singletary told the judge.
She again became a crime victim just before the trial began when, on the night of Jan. 9, the windows of her car were smashed.
Times staff writers Bob Baker, Laurie Becklund, Paul Feldman, Victor Merina and George Stein contributed to this story.