Ventura County prosecutors said Friday that they will seek the death penalty in the murder trial of David Wayne Sconce, accused of using oleander to poison a business rival in 1985.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Kevin DeNoce said state law lists murder by poisoning as a "special circumstance" that a jury may consider in deciding whether to recommend the death penalty.
Sconce, 34, is accused of poisoning Timothy Waters of Simi Valley after Waters threatened to expose illegal activities at the Pasadena Crematorium in Altadena, which Sconce operated. Waters, who was 24 at the time of his death, ran a rival cremation service in Burbank.
Sconce, of Pasadena, has pleaded not guilty to the murder charges, but he earlier pleaded guilty in an assault case in which he was accused of hiring two men to beat up Waters in February, 1985, two months before Waters' death.
Sconce also has pleaded guilty to 21 criminal counts pertaining to violations at the crematory, including the mingling of human remains, theft of body parts and removal of gold teeth from cadavers. He served more than two years in prison on those charges.
The murder case is being tried in Ventura County because Waters died at his mother's home in Camarillo. But because the Los Angeles County district attorney's office prosecuted Sconce in the earlier cases, Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Harvey Giss has been designated as the lead prosecutor on the case, aided by DeNoce. The trial is scheduled to begin March 18.
Sconce's attorney, Roger Diamond of Santa Monica, said Friday he would seek a change of venue because of publicity in Ventura County.
"It's a fluke that this case is even being tried in Ventura," Diamond said, adding that he would like to have the trial moved to Los Angeles County. "Everybody is there," he said. "All the witnesses and attorneys."
Both Diamond and DeNoce said they want to have Waters' remains, which were exhumed a few weeks ago, examined by a Cornell University expert who the lawyers said has the most sophisticated test available to detect traces of oleander. DeNoce, however, said a prosecution expert already has found evidence of oleander in tissue samples kept by the Ventura County coroner's office.
Dr. John Holloway, a former assistant medical examiner who conducted an autopsy after Waters died, ruled that the 270-pound man had died of heart failure. But at a preliminary hearing in October, Holloway testified that oleander might have been a factor in the death.
Oleander, an evergreen bush often planted in highway median strips, is poisonous and causes nausea, vomiting, irregular heartbeat and diarrhea. Two oleander deaths, not counting the Waters case, have been recorded in California.