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Man Gets Two Life Terms for Deadly Holdup : Courts: Thomas R. Merrill was convicted of first-degree murder for the robbery of a coin exchange that left two people dead, one injured.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former Tustin Marine was sentenced Friday to two concurrent terms of life without parole for his part in a brutal holdup at a coin exchange that left two people dead and a third wounded.

Thomas Reed Merrill, 27, who was convicted of first-degree murder last summer, sat motionless as Commissioner Richard M. Aronson announced the stiff sentence. In addition to the two life terms, Aronson sentenced Merrill to 11 years for a related attempted murder conviction.

“This is probably one of the most tragic cases that I’ve been associated with,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeoffrey L. Robinson. “I don’t understand the intent of this crime. . . . It was a terrible thing.”

Robinson had argued throughout the trial that Merrill and his partner, Eric John Wick, 20, carefully planned to rob the Newport Coin Exchange on MacArthur Boulevard in Newport Beach when it had a large inventory of valuable coins. During the robbery, he contended, Merrill set out to kill witnesses.

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Killed in the March 14, 1989, shooting were Clyde Oatts, 45, and Rene King, 38, wife of owner William D. King, now 39. William King was shot four times and left with permanent brain damage.

After the sentencing, King said: “The severity of the punishment matches the severity of the crime.”

Merrill and Wick, who were best friends at the Tustin Marine Corps Helicopter Air Station, blamed each other for the crime at the trial.

Gary W. Pohlson, Merrill’s attorney, argued that his client was not involved in the robbery, while Wick’s attorney contended that Merrill was the gunman and that Wick actually tried to stop the shooting.

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Wick, the son of an FBI agent, was sentenced last August to two concurrent life sentences and 12 years on related counts of attempted murder, robbery, burglary and conspiracy. He could be eligible for parole in about 30 years.

Before the sentencing, Pohlson made a motion for a new trial, arguing that Wick’s attorney improperly used confidential conversations with Merrill and made inappropriate closing remarks to the jury.

“I know in my heart that he did not get a fair trial,” Pohlson said.

He added that what Wick’s attorney did “may not have been illegal, but it might be immoral.”

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Aronson, however, disagreed and denied the motion.

Pohlson said he plans to appeal the verdict and sentence.


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