Mistrial Ruled in Ex-Officer’s Murder-for-Hire Case : Courts: Jury deadlocks 10-2 for conviction of former L.A. policeman accused of two contract killings.
A mistrial was declared Thursday after jurors were unable to reach a verdict in the contract murder trial of former Los Angeles Police Officer William Leasure, described by the prosecution as a thrill seeker who turned to crime because he was bored writing traffic tickets.
After deliberating four weeks, the panel told Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg it was deadlocked, 10-2, in favor of conviction on two counts each of murder and conspiracy. A retrial is expected.
A 17-year LAPD veteran, Leasure was accused of arranging and participating in the 1980 and 1981 murders, respectively, of Anne Smith, 41, co-owner of a Highland Park beauty salon, and Antonio de los Reyes, 63, a businessman and part-time musician. Both victims were killed in the midst of bitter disputes with their spouses, who were friends of Leasure.
Leasure, 44, who has been incarcerated for more than five years, showed no emotion during Thursday’s proceedings. Attorneys on both sides said they were disappointed.
“A lot of hard work went into this case,” said the prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. James E. Koller.
“We think we proved Mr. Leasure was innocent in the case,” said co-defense counsel Richard P. Lasting.
Jurors said one holdout had expressed negative feelings about law enforcement authorities from the start of the deliberations and later discussed a newspaper article in which one of Leasure’s alleged co-conspirators, Arthur Gayle Smith, husband of one of the victims, had criticized the police.
“According to him every police detective who was involved with this case was a liar, except the one who was on trial,” said juror Karen Hawkins, a secretary for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Jurors are routinely admonished not to read or watch news reports about the case they are hearing.
Hawkins said she asked jury Foreman Tom Maldonado to tell the judge about the panelist’s behavior, but he declined.
“I don’t think it influenced the decision at all,” Maldonado, a pharmacist at UCLA Medical Center, said.
Leasure was accused of conspiring with Arthur Smith to have Smith’s wife murdered and with Paulette de los Reyes to have her ex-husband killed.
For a decade, the prosecution contended, Leasure’s crimes escaped detection, but he became careless, allowing himself to get caught on a stolen pleasure boat near Oakland.
A search of his Northridge house turned up three illegal gun silencers, a stolen car and evidence linking him to a multimillion-dollar yacht theft and insurance fraud ring.
Insurance fraud and stolen property charges are pending against Leasure in Los Angeles and Northern California.
According to authorities, Leasure, a traffic officer who was fired in 1988 for knowingly possessing a stolen car, served as the getaway driver in the two murders and helped arrange a third slaying with which he has not been charged due to lack of evidence.
Leasure’s arrest in May, 1986, led authorities to star witness Dennis France, a welder and the self-confessed triggerman in the two murders. France, who has been granted immunity, told authorities about Leasure’s role in the killings for which France was paid $4,500.
During the seven-week trial, Lasting argued that France fabricated Leasure’s role in the murders because “the only way he was going to avoid punishment for his crimes was to claim that a police officer was involved.”
But 10 jurors found France’s version convincing, if not always consistent. Several said they were swayed by a videotape of a conversation between Leasure and France taken five years ago with a camera hidden in the jailhouse ceiling. After the informant asks Leasure what he has done with the murder weapon, the former police officer writes out the word “melted” on a piece of paper.
The prosecution suffered a setback when Smith, convicted in 1988 of first-degree murder in his wife’s death, invoked his 5th Amendment right not to answer questions about the murder.
According to the prosecution, Leasure drove France to the beauty salon and waited outside while the welder, pretending to commit robbery, demanded money from Anne Smith and fatally shot her in the back. The slaying occured on the eve of the Smith couple’s divorce hearing.
Nearly a year later, former motel manager Charles F. Persico was charged with Smith’s murder after witnesses to the killing identified him as the assailant. Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner subsequently said it was a case of mistaken identity.
After pleading guilty to manslaughter, Persico served four years in prison and was paroled in 1984. Persico, who testified against Leasure, has sued the county for $85 million.
Prosecutors said Paulette de los Reyes hired Leasure to kill her ex-husband, allegedly to speed up disbursement of her son’s inheritance. On Sept. 10, 1981, according to France’s testimony, Leasure drove France to a Sherman Oaks lounge, where De los Reyes had been performing. The musician was killed as he left the bar.
His widow pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and solicitation to commit murder and testified against Leasure, who remains an uncharged suspectin the murder of Antonio de los Reyes’ stepfather, Gilberto Cervantes, 76.
Weisberg ordered the parties in the case to return to court July 19.
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