Defense claims detectives botched Thompson probe

Times Staff Writer

The detective initially in charge of investigating the murders of racing legend Mickey Thompson and his wife never sought to arrest Michael Goodwin, now on trial for the crimes, nor did he seek to file charges against him, according to testimony Monday in a Pasadena courtroom.

The defense called Michael W. Griggs, who headed the investigation for the first four years, to suggest that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department investigation into the 1988 double murder was botched.

Griggs told jurors that he never sought charges or an arrest warrant against Goodwin, Thompson's onetime partner promoting auto and motorcycle races. Griggs, who has been retired for 15 years, later declined to answer questions, except to say that he testified reluctantly.

It was the third day of defense testimony, which is expected to wrap up Thursday. Prosecutors presented four weeks of evidence that Goodwin arranged for two men on bicycles to gun down Thompson and his wife Trudy at their Bradbury mansion. The men have not been identified.

Goodwin, inventor of supercross racing, and Thompson, the first man to exceed 400 mph on land, had joined forces in 1986 to promote indoor motor sports competitions on dirt tracks. They soon had a falling out, and Thompson won lawsuits that bankrupted Goodwin; prosecutors contend that he arranged the executions out of revenge.

Also called by the defense Monday was Los Angeles County Sheriff's Det. Mark Lillienfeld. Defense attorney Elena Saris of the L.A. County public defender's office questioned him sharply, suggesting that three of his witnesses changed their stories to make them appear more damning.

"So is it fair to say all the witnesses who you talked to embellished their testimony when they came to the preliminary hearing?" Saris asked.

But Saris' efforts to suggest he lied to advance the prosecution were cut short when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Teri Schwartz ruled there was nothing showing Lillienfeld "committed an act of moral turpitude that would bear on his credibility."

Lillienfeld acknowledged in testimony Monday that he made a mistake five years ago when he misinterpreted a ballistics report that ruled out Goodwin's handgun as the murder weapon. He also acknowledged that he did not realize that a human hair had been found on tape retrieved from a stun gun recovered at the Bradbury crime scene.

He testified that he ordered DNA tests for the hair, a broken fingernail and scrapings taken from the body of Thompson's wife, Trudy, only after the defense asked him to do so.

More time was taken up Monday in arguing legal points before the judge than in presenting evidence to the jury. In one of the numerous delays, as the lawyers huddled with Schwartz, jurors chattered and stretched, and one knitted.

At least seven people have testified that they heard Goodwin threaten Thompson with death. Prosecutors claim Goodwin bought a yacht, opened offshore bank accounts, purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of gold and embarked on a two-year trip after the murders. One witness said he saw Thompson sitting in a parked car about three-quarters of a mile from the crime scene two days before the murders.

Saris has argued that no evidence from the crime scene has links to Goodwin.

She has attacked the adequacy of the police investigation; claimed investigators ignored evidence unless it pointed to Goodwin; and asserted that Thompson's sister, Collene Campbell, an Orange County politician, used her connections to get Goodwin prosecuted by federal authorities, then Orange County and finally by the Los Angeles County district attorney.


For The Record Los Angeles Times Thursday December 14, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Correction Mickey Thompson trial: An article in Tuesday's California section about the Mickey Thompson murder trial said Thompson was seen in a parked car about three-quarters of a mile from the crime scene two days before he and his wife, Trudy, were killed. According to testimony, it was defendant Michael Goodwin, not Thompson, who was seen in the car.
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