Shootings Were Calculated, Prosecution Says : Trial: The defense, however, says Tustin man accused of killing three former co-workers execution-style was on drugs and did not know what he was doing.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The evidence against a man accused of the execution-style shooting of three former co-workers makes it a "slam-dunk . . . first-degree" case and there is no question that he killed and then robbed them at an auto parts store, a defense attorney told jurors in his closing arguments Thursday.

However, Gregory A. Sturm, 21, of Tustin was on a cocaine high and did not know what he was doing, said Deputy Public Defender William G. Kelley as he set the stage for an effort to keep his client from being executed for the crimes. Sturm did not, as prosecutors allege, plan the killings "in cold blood," he said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Lewis R. Rosenblum told the Superior Court jurors in his equally high-charged argument that Sturm is a "cunning and manipulative criminal" who knew exactly what he was doing on Aug. 20, 1990, when he tied his former co-workers to separate chairs and shot them.

Chad Chadwick, 22, Russell Williams, 21, and Darrell Esgar, 22, were killed during an alleged robbery at the Super Shops auto parts store in Tustin. Sturm allegedly made off with $1,100, authorities said.

Sturm is charged with three counts each of murder, robbery and burglary; a special circumstance of committing multiple murders and three special circumstances of having committed the murders during a robbery and burglary.

In telling jurors during the guilt phase of the capital case that Sturm is not contesting the murder charges, Kelley is effectively preparing for the penalty phase of the trial when he will plead with them to spare his client's life. During the penalty phase, which starts once a verdict is reached, the jurors will have the option of recommending the death penalty or that Sturm receive a sentence of life in prison without parole.

After his arrest, Sturm told Tustin police investigators in a taped confession that he killed the men for the money in the safe. One of the men tearfully begged for his life before he was shot, Sturm told police.

Kelley told jurors that the defendant's confession to police shows that he is not a criminal and did not plan the killings. Also, Sturm was so jittery from the cocaine that the possibility of the shooting being accidental should be considered, he added.

"I'm not telling you that cocaine is the villain here," Kelley said. But everything that happened that evening was "all related to drugs."

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