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Jailed Triple Murder Suspect Accused of Seeking Hit Man : Crime: Police say the Fullerton mechanic solicited an undercover deputy to kill his grandfather and confess to all the murders.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A jailed Fullerton mechanic awaiting trial for murder in the deaths of his parents and a brother is now accused of enlisting a hit man to bludgeon his grandfather to death over the holiday weekend and then take the fall for all four killings, an Orange County sheriff’s investigator said.

Edward Charles III, 22, allegedly tried to arrange the murder through a series of jailhouse phone calls and notes held up to the jail-partition glass, authorities said. He allegedly planned to pay $150,000 and three horses to a killer--who in fact was an undercover deputy--to slay his 74-year-old grandfather.

“The whole thing was kind of unbelievable,” said Orange County sheriff’s Deputy Steve Howieson, who said he posed as the ex-convict hit man Charles tried to hire.

During jailhouse visits last week, Howieson said Charles instructed him to strike the grandfather’s skull with a baseball bat as he slept, and then deliberately get arrested by police and confess to all four killings.

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Charles’ parents and younger brother were found dead in a burning family car on Nov. 7. Howieson had persuaded Charles that he was willing to kill the grandfather and take the blame for all the deaths because he had AIDS and would not live much longer, the investigator said.

According to the alleged plot orchestrated in jailhouse talks and telephone calls over eight days, Charles would be freed and would pay the hit man’s family, Howieson said.

The pair, separated by a glass partition in the Orange County Jail, talked Thursday and Friday. They communicated in half-sentences over a jail phone and with handwritten messages held up to the glass, Howieson said.

Charles wavered several times about whether to actually engineer his grandfather’s death, Howieson said. At one point, Charles wrote, “I can’t ask anyone to kill my grandfather,” but at another said, “He’s 75. He’s lived life,” Howieson said.

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Charles’ attorney, Deputy Public Defender Ronald Klar, said he had not been informed of the undercover operation and declined to comment until he had read police reports and talked to Charles.

But Klar said: “That sounds much beyond his (Charles’) capabilities and his demeanor.”

Charles’ grandfather, Bernie Severino, also declined comment.

In one scenario, Howieson was to burglarize the Charles home in Fullerton wake up the grandfather and confess to the three murders. Howieson was to tell police he was a professional hit man who couldn’t get full payment until he completed his original contract and kill the grandfather, Howieson said.

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Whenever Charles hedged about the alleged plots, Howieson said he replied each time that the decision was entirely up to Charles.

In a Friday meeting, Charles intimated he preferred the murder plan, according to the investigator.

“To be absolutely clear,” Howieson said, “I held up a note on the glass that read ‘Grandfather dies,’ and he was nodding yes, yes. Then I finished writing with ‘a blow to the head.’ And he said it didn’t matter how.”

Howieson said the two settled on a payment of $150,000 to be handed over to Howieson’s family. Also, as collateral, the hit man was to steal three of the family’s horses, valued at $10,000, Howieson said. Later, Charles would buy back the animals, Howieson said.

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Charles drew a diagram of the family home showing where the grandfather would be sleeping, Howieson said.

The investigator said he asked Charles whether he should use a gun, a knife or a bat. But Charles advised against the gun because it would “be too loud,” Howieson said.

Finally, Howieson asked Charles if he wanted to call his grandfather and say goodby, but Charles answered no. Then, Howieson inquired when he should act.

Charles replied: “Do him in his sleep,” according to Howieson.

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Howieson’s partner, sheriff’s Deputy Bill Davis, rushed into the jail visiting room and snatched up Charles’ handwritten messages, Howieson said.

Charles has pleaded not guilty to killing his father, Edward Charles Jr., 55, his mother, Dolores, 47, and his brother, Danny, 19. The three were discovered dead in a family car that had been doused with gasoline and set ablaze.

Authorities believe the assailant used a hammer and knife, and they suspect that the victims were killed elsewhere and put in the car.

Charles already faces the death penalty if convicted. Howieson said the Orange County district attorney’s office will decide this week whether to charge the former gas station mechanic with soliciting a murder.

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Howieson said authorities learned of Charles’ plan from a jail informant in December. The informant was supposed to help Charles find an assassin, but instead he went to authorities, thus hatching the sting operation, he said.

Howieson, a 17-year sheriff’s department veteran, sent Charles a letter on Dec. 22, saying that a mutual friend suggested the inmate needed “some work done.” Charles called Howieson the next day and arranged a meeting.

But during their first conversation, Howieson feared his cover would be blown. Charles said he had heard from other inmates that an informant had revealed his scheme to the district attorney’s office, Howieson said.

“I was talking to this guy and thinking, ‘Oh, my God. He already knows,’ ” Howieson said.

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But Howieson, who told Charles during a 10-minute phone conversation he was a former prison inmate, reassured the inmate there was nothing to worry about. Charles then requested a face-to-face meeting.


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