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Trial Begins in Triple-Slaying Case : Courts: Prosecutors say the Lake Los Angeles man planned the killings of his wife, stepson and stepson’s spouse. Defense attorneys cite heat of rage.

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A Lake Los Angeles man charged with killing his wife, stepson and his stepson’s wife told a co-worker the day of the slayings that if he read about a “crazy guy who kills his wife, that’s going to be me,” prosecutors said Monday.

The statement by Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph Payne came in the opening day of the triple-slaying trial of 44-year-old Oliver Leroy Vann in Van Nuys Superior Court. Payne said Vann, on the same day of the slayings, allegedly made the statement to a fellow worker at a Palmdale K mart.

Prosecutors said Vann was driven by longstanding hate when he killed his wife, Marie A. Vann, 52; her son, Ronald T. Johnson, 30, and Johnson’s wife, Muriel T. Johnson, 40, on Nov. 15, 1991.

Vann allegedly used a .22-caliber rifle to shoot his wife and Muriel Johnson, whose bodies were found under a dining table in the house they shared in the 41000 block of 168th Street East. He is also charged with shooting Ronald Johnson three times in the yard next to the house after Johnson crashed through a plate-glass window in an attempt to escape.

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The Johnsons’ three daughters were in a bedroom at the time and were not harmed. They heard the shooting and told police that Vann was responsible for the killings, Payne said.

Vann was arrested about 5 1/2 hours after the slayings when he wrecked his car on Interstate 15 near Victorville. Payne hopes to convince the jury that Vann carefully planned to murder his family and carried it out.

But, according to defense attorney John Ponist, Vann reacted in the heat of rage, capping a lengthy and emotional fight over household finances and after years of brow-beating by his wife. Ponist, however, did not acknowledge that Vann was the shooter and would not say if his client would testify.

One witness testified that the Vanns had a stormy marriage.

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The Vanns “had a regular, battling dialogue with one another. It was impossible for them to be civil to each other for any period of time,” said Steven D. Turpin, whose longtime girlfriend is Marie Vann’s niece.

About two months before the killings, Turpin said Vann came to his house for target practice and to adjust the scope on his .22-caliber rifle.

“His sighting the rifle was for the sole purpose of dealing with those people that were messing with him,” he testified. The trial continues today and is expected to be presented to the jury in about two weeks.


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