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California

Thief sentenced in freeway accident that killed sheriff’s deputy

An appliance thief who allowed a stolen stove to topple off his truck on an Anaheim freeway, triggering a collision that led to the death of an off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, was sentenced Friday to 16 years to life in prison.

Cole Wilkins, 41, was convicted Sept. 6 of second-degree murder. Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals tacked a year onto the normal 15 year-to-life sentence because Wilkins had a prior conviction for failing to register as a sex offender. Wilkins was convicted as a juvenile of rape.

Goethals rejected a motion for a new trial based on defense arguments that the defendant’s crimes did not meet the legal standard for an implied malice killing and that he should have been convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He also ruled that Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Jennifer Walker did not make improper arguments to the jury when describing the legal theory of second-degree murder.

Wilkins stole several appliances from an under-construction Menifee home on July 7, 2006, and was driving away with them when a stove fell onto the 91 Freeway, leading to the crash that killed Deputy David Piquette.

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Wilkins was originally charged and convicted of first-degree murder, and was sentenced in July 2008 to 26 years to life in prison. His conviction and sentence, however, were overturned by the state Supreme Court, and Goethals ruled in May that prosecutors could only pursue second-degree murder due to misconduct in the case and could not tell jurors the victim was an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, unlike Wilkins’ previous trial.

Wilkins has been in custody for about 11 years and will have to do about another five years behind bars before getting a parole hearing, Walker said.


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