Man Faces Life Term in Murder by Mistake
A jury on Friday convicted a 43-year-old man of murdering a Fountain Valley woman in a complicated murder-for-hire plot gone awry that stunned an Orange County community.
Leonard Owen Mundy of Los Angeles faces life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of Jane Carver, the 46-year-old flight attendant shot to death just yards away from her Fountain Valley home as she returned from a morning jog on June 10, 1995.
A subdued Mundy shook his head and rubbed his eyes after the verdict by the jury of eight women and four men was announced. Carver’s family and friends, gathered a few feet away from the defendant, wept with joy.
“I am very relieved,” the victim’s husband, Al Carver, said after the hearing. “I’m relieved that this day has finally come to us and I’m extremely grateful.”
Jurors believed the prosecution’s theory that Mundy was involved in a murder plot with Premium Commercial Services Corp., a Huntington Beach finance company that wanted him to satisfy his $80,000 debt by murdering another delinquent borrower.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Jim Tanizaki said Mundy was drafted by Premium as a hit man with orders to kill another Premium Commercial debtor and that he shot Carver by mistake.
“We felt the evidence overwhelmingly supported the verdict,” Tanizaki said. “I am just really happy for the Carver family. They have lived with this for three years.”
The jury also convicted Mundy of the two special circumstances of lying in wait and killing for financial gain. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 31.
Mundy’s attorney, Marlin Stapleton Jr., said the prosecution’s theory of mistaken identity was “impossible” and he continues to believe his client is innocent.
“It’s a lot harder to defend somebody who you think is innocent,” Stapleton said. “That’s why this job is so tough sometimes.”
The case is intertwined with that of Paul Gordon Alleyne, a small business owner from Los Angeles who also owed money to Premium. Alleyne was convicted last year of attempted murder for shooting James Wengert in April 1996. Wengert, a San Clemente resident, was also deeply in debt to Premium.
In both the Mundy and Alleyne cases, prosecutors said the shootings were orchestrated by Coleman Allen, co-founder of Premium, who died of natural causes in 1996.
Tanizaki said Mundy’s intended target was Wengert’s wife, Peggy, who had filed a lawsuit against Premium Commercial, accusing company officials of strong-arming her to sign over the Fountain Valley home that the Wengerts once had owned. The house, which was in Peggy Wengert’s name, was not far from Carver’s home.
The prosecution presented six witnesses who testified they saw Mundy at or near the scene of the crime on June 10, 1995.
“The eyewitnesses were very important to us,” said a female juror from Orange. “We believed it was a botched hit.”
Stapleton maintained that the witnesses were not credible because they gave slightly different descriptions to police. He also said nobody could have made such a terrible error, killing Carver instead of Wengert, because Wengert and Carver do not look alike and Wengert is much older than Carver.
The defense attorney presented the jury with an alternate theory saying that another possible target was a woman who lived near the place where Carver was killed and who resembled Carver more than Wengert did.
Mundy’s girlfriend, Belinda Carl, failed to convince jurors when she testified that he was with her on the morning of the murder.
The verdict comes almost three years to the day that Carver was gunned down. While her killing remained unsolved, a group of her closest friends from United Airlines began a publicity campaign to find the killer. The group attended the trial every day and camped outside the courtroom until a verdict was reached.
“We know she would have done the same thing for us,” said Jeanne Dowell, Carver’s friend of more than 25 years.
Al Carver said his family is coping as best they can. One son is set to graduate from Oregon State University this month and another will graduate from Capistrano Valley High School. He still expresses disbelief at the turn of events that cost his wife her life.
“It appears there were a lot of people in this case motivated by money,” he said. “They put more value on money than on human life.”
Times correspondent Hope Hamashige contributed to this report.