Opposing attorneys in a murder-for-hire trial slammed each other's cases Friday, accusing one another of using perjured testimony and "smoke screen" arguments in an effort to "manipulate" the jury.
The verbal sparring occurred during closing arguments in the trial of Orange County businessman Julius F. Schill and reputed mobster Richard M. Dota in U.S. District Court .
Assistant U.S. Atty. Wayne Gross alleged that Schill, 58, of San Juan Capistrano paid Dota, 55, of Las Vegas $21,000 to arrange the murder of Wilbur Constable, the fiance of Schill's 24-year-old secretary. Gross said that Schill wanted Constable out of the way so he could pursue a love affair with his secretary, Cynthia Asher.
Schill's attorney, Allan H. Stokke, contended that his client had no motive to kill Asher's fiance because he already had had a sexual affair with her but had called it off. He further explained that Schill gave Dota $21,000 as part of a legitimate business contract between Dota and Auto Photo Systems, the Tustin photo vending company where Schill was president.
On Friday, Stokke accused the prosecution of building a criminal case against the defendants with the testimony of "people who have difficulty with the truth."
Gross charged that Schill and Dota were hiding behind fraudulent documents to "disguise their illicit dealings."
Both sides put different interpretations on evidence that ranged from telephone records to witness testimony and tape-recorded conversations involving the defendants.
One issue that drew much attention during the trial was whether Schill and Asher had actually engaged in a sexual relationship. Although Asher, one of the prosecution's key witnesses, denied it, Gross admitted in closing arguments that there was "substantial evidence" to show that she had had an affair with Schill.
But Gross quickly added that it was irrelevant. Either way, he contended, "Schill was very much interested in Cynthia Asher and would do whatever it took to get her." Gross' co-counsel, Assistant U.S. Atty. Paul L. Seave, said that Schill "wanted to possess her, and the rest of the world be damned."
Stokke, however, said that his client--who admitted to having an affair with Asher in testimony earlier this week--had ended the sexual liaisons and went back to a strictly professional relationship with Asher.
Stokke further suggested that Asher "had as much of a motive, if not more" to see her 26-year-old fiance dead because she was the beneficiary of his life insurance policy worth more than $180,000.
"She's lied about everything imaginable," Stokke said about Asher's testimony.
The attorneys also argued about the veracity of another key witness, Blake Tek Yoon, a confessed hit man who said he was hired by Dota to carry out the contract killing.
Earlier in the trial, Yoon told the jury that on Oct. 11, 1991, he and two partners lured Constable to a secluded Irvine parking lot, beat him with baseball bats and then shot him in the back of the head. Miraculously, Constable survived the attack.
Federal Public Defender H. Dean Steward, who represents Dota, described Yoon Friday as a "big-time liar . . . a monster." He said that Yoon, who pleaded guilty to attempted murder in the case, lied to the jury in exchange for a lighter sentence. Yoon also made his lies more outrageous because he is attempting to make a movie on his life and trying to get "the interest of Hollywood," Steward said.
Gross acknowledged that Yoon should be viewed with caution, but said that phone records, credit card receipts and other witnesses strongly corroborated his testimony.
"We would have liked to have called nuns, priests and rabbis if we could, but they were not the kind of people involved in this case," Gross said.
Gross encouraged the jury to carefully examine records showing phone calls between Yoon and Dota and Dota and Schill shortly after it was realized that the murder attempt on Constable had failed.
"The phones really light up," he said. "Put the pieces together . . . and it all makes sense."
The defense dismissed the phone records as either legitimate business or placed by people other than the defendants.
Defense attorney Steward also told the jury that the evidence showed that there was a "conspiracy for a beating, not a murder." He contended that the three-man hit crew never intended to kill Constable.
"If you're going to kill someone, why do you bring baseball bats?" he asked.
The jury is expected to begin deliberating the case on Monday.