Conviction upheld in 1988 killing of racing legend Mickey Thompson

A state appellate court has upheld the conviction of Michael Goodwin, who was found guilty in 2007 for killing racing legend Mickey Thompson and his wife.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

A state appellate court upheld the conviction Monday of a man serving two life terms in prison for the 1988 killing of racing legend Mickey Thompson and his wife.

A three-judge panel from the 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the arguments by Michael Goodwin that numerous errors in the case warranted the reversal of two murder counts he was convicted of in 2007.

Goodwin’s appeal featured a laundry list of claims against investigators and prosecutors, including misconduct and perjury. He faulted a Los Angeles trial judge for, among other things, allowing the testimony of an eyewitness who saw him surveilling Thompson’s home before the killings.


The delay in prosecution -- nearly 13 years after Thompson, 59, and his wife Trudy were gunned down in the driveway of their San Gabriel Valley home -- also violated his rights to due process, Goodwin argued.

In a 164-page ruling that recounts the facts of the case and examines each of Goodwin’s arguments piece by piece, the appellate court judges were not swayed.

The panel agreed with a Los Angeles judge that although no direct evidence connected Goodwin to the case, the array of circumstantial evidence “was overwhelming.”

The ruling marks another chapter in one of Southern California’s most abiding crime sagas, long the subject of murder-mystery shows and broadcast news magazines.

Thompson -- the first American to reach 400 mph in a piston-driven vehicle and the holder of numerous speed records -- was fatally shot with his wife in the early hours of March 16, 1988. Two hooded gunmen fled on bicycles.

For more than a decade, the case stalled as evidence was lacking, but Goodwin, one of Thompson’s former business partners, was long the prime suspect.

Goodwin was forced to declare bankruptcy after Thompson won a $514,000 judgment against him, and he’d told friends and associates that he wanted the race-car driver dead, according to court documents.

“He’s taking everything I’ve got. He’s destroying me,” Goodwin told two friends at a 1988 dinner, according to court documents. “I’m going to take him out.”

All told, 15 people testified about hearing Goodwin threaten to kill Thompson or his associates, part of a slew of witnesses who came forward as the killings’ mystery generated wider media attention. A key witness said he saw Goodwin scout the Thompsons’ neighborhood.

A jury convicted Goodwin, now 69, of two counts of murder in 2007, and he was sentenced at a Pasadena courthouse to two consecutive life terms without parole.

At his sentencing, he apologized to Thompson’s sister, Collene Campbell, but insisted on his innocence.

“I have condolences for Ms. Campbell,” he said. “But I can’t apologize, because I’m not guilty.”

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