Civil Suit Against Pearce Stalled by Bankruptcy

A wrongful-death civil lawsuit against Roberta Pearce, convicted of murdering her estranged husband in January 1989, was postponed in Vista Superior Court on Monday because Pearce has declared bankruptcy in U.S. District Court.

Charles Pearce and Rita Church, the parents of Robert Wayne Pearce, had filed the lawsuit, seeking compensatory and punitive damages against Roberta Pearce for the death of their son.

Wayne Pearce was stabbed to death by two Escondido teen-agers, Isaac Hill and Anthony Pilato, who each have been sentenced to the California Youth Authority until they turn 25. The two said Roberta Pearce, a one-time teacher's aide at Escondido's Orange Glen High School, solicited them to kill her estranged husband in exchange for money, cars and other favors.

A Vista Superior Court jury in March convicted Roberta Pearce of first-degree murder with special circumstances and ordered her to spend the rest of her life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The victim's parents had planned to be in court Monday to seek punitive damages against Pearce, whose assets are about $45,000--her share in the equity of the couple's former home in Valley Center, according to attorney Dennis Atchley, representing the parents.

But, because Pearce last Friday declared bankruptcy, Atchley said he now has to ask the federal court to allow him to proceed with his civil lawsuit against the convicted murderer, because bankruptcy normally stops all other court proceedings. The process of asking relief from the bankruptcy proceedings, he said, should take several weeks.

"We want to make sure Roberta doesn't benefit by the murder of her husband," Atchley said of the wrongful-death claim against her.

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