Escondido Teen Admits Guilt in Pearce Killing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A third Escondido teen-ager pleaded guilty Monday in the killing of the estranged husband of a former Orange Glen High School teacher's aide.

Frank Rodriguez, 16, pleaded guilty in Juvenile Court to conspiracy to commit murder. In exchange, the district attorney's office dropped charges against Rodriguez of murder and soliciting murder in connection with the slaying last January of Robert Wayne Pearce, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Carlos Armour.

Two other teen-agers, Anthony Pilato and Isaac Hill, previously pleaded guilty to stabbing Pearce to death, saying they were solicited by his estranged wife, Roberta Pearce. All three were attending Orange Glen High School in Escondido at the time, but only Rodriguez was a student in a class in which Roberta Pearce was an aide.

The couple were married more than 14 years but were obtaining a divorce at the time of the killing. According to testimony during Pearce's preliminary hearing, she offered Pilato and Hill $100,000 and two cars in payment for killing her husband so she could collect on his life insurance and retain ownership of the couple's Valley Center home.

Roberta Pearce will be tried for murder in January in Vista Superior Court.

Pilato testified during Pearce's preliminary hearing that Rodriguez was Pearce's lover and participated in some of the planning of the ambush slaying. On the weight of that testimony, Armour said, Rodriguez was charged for his role.

During his plea on Monday, Rodriguez admitted helping plan the killing and driving himself and the other killers back to Pearce's home afterward, Armour said.

Rodriguez was ordered by Juvenile Court Referee Hideo Chino to undergo a 60-day diagnostic study at the California Youth Authority in Norwalk. He will return to court Dec. 18 for sentencing. Although he technically faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life, he must be released at age 25 from the CYA, Armour said.

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