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Judge Sentences Pearce to Life Without Parole : Courts: Escondido woman was convicted of hiring two teen-agers to murder her estranged husband..

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Roberta Pearce, convicted of killing her husband, was formally sentenced Friday to life in state prison after a Vista Superior Court judge refused to grant a new trial or make her eligible for parole.

In blunt language, Judge Franklin Mitchell Jr. denied a request to drop the special circumstances penalty in Pearce’s first-degree murder conviction for hiring two teen-age boys to slay her estranged husband on Jan. 31, 1989.

“I don’t think she should be rewarded for her seduction of minors to perpetrate this crime,” Mitchell said.

The youths ambushed Wayne Pearce and hit him 27 times with a kitchen knife and a carpenter’s hand ax after Roberta Pearce, a 43-year-old former Escondido teacher’s aide, promised them each $50,000 from her husband’s life insurance premium.

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Mitchell said he felt Pearce purposely chose young people to carry out the deed because state law would confine them to the California Youth Authority only until they reach age 25.

The judge believed Pearce reasoned that, despite her part in her husband’s death, she wouldn’t receive a substantially harsher penalty than the individuals who actually did the killing.

“No, I think this was a conniving plan, a deliberate scheme, foolish though it was,” said Mitchell, adding that, before the killing, Pearce had used drugs with the teen-agers and had sex with another teen-age boy involved in the crime.

A jury on March 12 found Pearce guilty of first-degree murder with the special circumstances of murder for financial gain and lying in wait, therefore requiring a sentence of either death or life in prison without possibility of parole.

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Eleven days later, the jury deliberated further and decided on the life sentence, partly out of sympathy because Pearce’s husband had left her for another woman and she could never have the child she desperately wanted with him.

If Mitchell had approved the motion by Pearce’s attorneys to strike the special circumstances finding, Pearce would have received a maximum sentence of 25 years to life and eventually become eligible for parole.

The judge also rejected the defense’s motion for a new trial based largely on claims of insufficient evidence against her. Mitchell said, “If there had not been a jury . . . I would have found the defendant guilty of those crimes.”

The defense also argued that a mistrial should have been declared because the prosecutor knew a key witness was under the influence of drugs during Pearce’s preliminary hearing but didn’t inform the defense.

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Mitchell replied that he found “no actual prejudice, this was all brought out for the jury.”

The two teen-agers who killed Pearce’s husband, Isaac Hill and Anthony Pilato, now both 16, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and are serving time until they are 25 years old.

Frank (Soddy) Rodriguez, with whom Pearce admitted having sex, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder for his role in the slaying. He will be sentenced May 31.


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