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Wife Found Guilty in Arson Murder of Retired Police Officer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ending a tragic case of love and desperation, grim-faced jurors convicted Joy Hooker of the 1993 arson murder of her husband, a former Los Angeles police officer once hailed as a hero for saving residents from a burning apartment building.

The 52-year-old Antelope Valley woman, who for years cared for her husband, Thomas Warren Hooker, as his health failed, seemed stunned as the nine women and three men delivered guilty verdicts on all counts Friday. The jurors had deliberated just over two days.

Because she was found guilty of a special circumstance--murder during the arson of an inhabited building--Hooker faces a mandatory sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole. Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Michael J. Farrell set sentencing for Jan. 17.

A careworn woman who wore her long hair in a single plait, Hooker brushed tears from her eyes as deputies led her away. Jurors hurried from the courtroom, declining comment.

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As he left court, defense attorney Earl Siddall still seemed to be in shock. “She’s not doing very well right now,” he said. “She’s crying.”

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Smalstig said he was happy the jury apparently saw through Hooker during her testimony. “I think it was apparent, even to a blind man on a fast horse, that she was lying through her teeth and cared very little for her husband,” he said.

Testifying in her own defense, Hooker often referred to her dead husband as “Mr. Hooker.” She wept twice on the witness stand, but shed no tears for him. Instead, she cried over her treatment by police during questioning and during testimony about her smoke-damaged family mementos.

“It was one of the coldest murders I’ve ever prosecuted,” Smalstig said. He noted that Hooker and her stepson, David Hooker, made no effort to save his father, but rescued the family’s dog.

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The prosecutor added that Thomas Hooker was helpless as he died on the floor of his bedroom. A deputy coroner who testified described his diabetes-ravaged corpse as “the sickest body he’d ever seen.”

Thomas Hooker, who claimed to be the inspiration for the 1980s television series “T.J. Hooker,” was nearly blind, suffered a heart condition and needed thrice-weekly dialysis at the time he died. He was so weak, he could not feed or dress himself, according to testimony.

His wife was his sole caretaker, but she was experiencing acute financial pressures; she was eight months behind on the mortgage payments and the bank was threatening foreclosure.

Joy and David Hooker came up with a plan to set fire to the house to collect insurance money and delay the foreclosure, according to testimony. David Hooker, a 34-year-old convicted bank robber, also has been convicted of his father’s April 19, 1993, murder.

According to the coroner, death was caused by smoke inhalation exacerbating an already severe heart condition.

But David Hooker’s jury did not find that he intended to kill his father when he and Joy used fireplace embers to ignite a love seat in the living room of the family’s home in Littlerock. As a result, his prison sentence--25 years to life--leaves him hope for parole.

Police long have contended that David and Joy Hooker became lovers after he came to live with her and his father following his parole from a 10-year federal prison sentence. They were seen in restaurants, but Joy Hooker explained that she was merely teaching her stepson social graces he had not learned in federal custody.

According to testimony, on the night of April 18, Joy Hooker clipped her husband’s toenails, gave him an extra sleeping pill and put him to bed. She stayed up watching television--an episode of “Tales from the Crypt,” she recalled--before going to bed in the guest room about 2:30 a.m. She testified she was awakened during the night by David, who helped her out the bedroom window, and ran across the street to dial 911 for help.

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Later, according to testimony, Thomas Hooker was found sprawled on the floor of the master bedroom, less than two feet from a door that could have led him to safety.

During her testimony, Hooker denied that her husband had become a burden to her, or that she plotted with her stepson to set fire to the house.

“I didn’t mind the work,” she insisted. “I cared about Tom. I loved him.”


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