It occurred more than nine years ago, but the murder of Catherine Stroup still resists resolution in court.
A jury in the fourth criminal trial stemming from the Hawthorne woman's shooting death deadlocked Friday, voting 9-3 in favor of convicting Stroup's son-in-law of hiring two men to kill her.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Mike Duarte said he will ask for permission to put Michael Seawright on trial once again in hopes of securing the unanimous verdict needed for conviction.
"I'm frustrated, but based on the evidence it's our position that he is, in fact, guilty of the charges," Duarte said after Torrance Superior Court Judge John P. Shook declared a mistrial in the case.
Defense attorney Gerald Moriarty said he and his client are "immensely disappointed."
"I expected a not-guilty (verdict)," Moriarty said. "I expected the jury to see all the liars for what they are."
The case against Seawright alleges a complicated plot of conspiracy, greed, murder-for-hire, cheatingspouses and perjury. It is the most recent of a series of courtroom showdowns prompted by the April 5, 1983, murder.
Stroup's husband was tried--and cleared in November, 1983--of murdering her in the couple's Hawthorne apartment. Several months later, police found the gun used in the killing and traced it back to two brothers, Peter and Paul Leach, who eventually told investigators that Seawright hired them to kill Stroup and her husband.
Both Leaches were tried for Stroup's murder. Peter Leach was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole, but an appellate court has granted him a retrial on whether he should eventually be allowed parole. Paul Leach, who abruptly ended his trial last year by pleading guilty to second-degree murder, is scheduled to be sentenced in November.
Prosecutors believe Seawright wanted the Stroups dead so he could take over a water-delivery company that he and his parents-in-law had created in 1981 in the desert community of Twentynine Palms.
But defense attorney Moriarty pointed out that the Leach brothers had changed their stories often, including when Peter Leach, at his own trial, recanted his tape-recorded confession to police and abruptly testified that Seawright killed Stroup himself.
At Seawright's trial, Leach said that story, too, was a lie, and that Seawright had hired him to kill both the Stroups.
Moriarty argued that Leach wanted to finger Seawright in the murder as revenge for Seawright's having had an affair with his wife.
Jurors who voted not guilty Friday said they doubted the credibility of some witnesses.
"If a known liar (Leach) swears to tell the truth, can you believe him?" asked juror Nate Almond, a retired engineer from Torrance. Although he strongly suspected that Seawright gave the Leaches the gun and set up Stroup's murder, "in my mind, I could not prove the conspiracy between Michael and Peter . . . so, yes, Michael had to go free."
Other jurors said they viewed the case differently.
"There was enough there to convict him," said Chris Payne, a machinist from Long Beach. "Some of the people (on the jury), it just wasn't in their personality to return a guilty verdict, period."
A hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 11 to determine when Seawright may be tried again.