UPDATE, OCT. 28, 1:28 P.M.: From City News Service's report on oral arguments before a three-justice panel in state appeals court in LA today, Deputy Attorney General Louis Karlin said, “The motive is shown very strongly by the nature of the threats” against the late Mickey Thompson by convictee Michael Goodwin. “Only one person has that motive.” … There was no evidence that the crime was done for any reason other than “to assassinate these two people.”
The defense's counter after the jump …
Goodwin's appellate attorney Gail Harper: “The evidence against Mr. Goodwin is so weak. … “Saying only one person had (a) motive is flat-out not true.” … Her client was “not the only person in the world who knew where Thompson and his wife lived.” … Goodwin was an “angry man” who was “known for his loudness and over-the-top statements,” but “being a jerk isn't a crime. …”You have to overcome the distaste for Mr. Goodwin, who is thoroughly distasteful.”
Outside the courtroom, Collene Campbell, Thompson's sister and a former San Juan Capistrano mayor, noted to City News Service it had been 9,724 days since her brother and his wife were killed and there has “never been a morning or a night that I'm not thinking about it.”
Larry Cano, the movie producer supporting Goodwin as detailed in the original post, told the Weekly after the hearing that Associate Justice Laurence D. Rubin, who was appointed by Gov. Gray Davis, “asked a lot of probing questions,” that Presiding Justice Tricia A. Bigelow, an Arnold Schwarzenegger appointee, “appeared to support the status quo” and that Associate Justice Elizabeth A. Grimes, another Schwarzenegger appointee, “was silent.” As for Harper, she “did an excellent job of standing up to all questions asked of her and was not intimidated by the setting or the tough questions.”
ORIGINAL POST, OCT. 28, 7:08 A.M.: A Newport Beach movie producer and Orange County private investigator will be in a state appeals court in Los Angeles today when oral arguments are heard in the murder conviction of Michael Frank Goodwin, a businessman who was found guilty by a jury in Pasadena in 2007 after the OC District Attorney's office charged him with masterminding the slayings of racing legend Mickey Thompson and his wife Trudy in 1988.
Larry Cano, executive producer of the 1983 plutonium plant potboiler Silkwood, and Paul E. Blackford, a former Scottsdale police detective-turned-P.I., claim to have uncovered proof of Goodwin's innocence–“proof” they will uncover in an upcoming book and television miniseries.
No one would be more elated at having that come out than Goodwin, who is currently serving his 13th year of a double life sentence without the possibility of parole for the Thompson murders. Those slayings played a supporting role in my August 2013 Weekly cover story “Challenger 2.5,” which is about the quest by Danny Thompson, Mickey's son, to set a land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flat's in his father's modernized streamliner.
This is from that story, after a bit about Danny Thompson agreeing in late 1987 to try to make the racing record books on behalf of his father, who was too frail to pilot the craft:
The plans were set. But on the morning of March 16, 1988, [Mickey] Thompson was stopped at his Bradbury estate by an intruder, who shot and wounded him and dragged him into the driveway. A second gunman came out from nowhere to shoot and kill his second wife, Trudy, then walked back up to Mickey–who was being watched over by the first shooter–and executed “The Speed King” with a bullet to the head.
The Thompsons together were shot six times, but neighbors heard no gunshots, only Trudy's screams. Witnesses also said they saw two black men ride bicycles into the woods surrounding the Thompson home that were too thick for cars and trucks. Four hours after the shootings, a gray, 10-speed Columbia-model bicycle was found down the hill from the Thompsons' residence.
As the story goes on to relate, these were cold-case murders for 13 years. Mickey's sister, Collene Campbell, the former mayor of San Juan Capistrano, pressed authorities for action and went on several TV crime shows, offering a $1 million reward for information leading to the conviction of the killers. A couple who saw one such program came forward to say they had seen Michael Goodwin, Mickey's former business partner, casing the Thompson home with binoculars two weeks before the slayings.
Despite no physical evidence linking Goodwin to the crimes, a trial court jury bought the prosecution's claim that he bumped off Mickey Thompson as revenge. Promoters of separate indoor dirt racing events, they had merged their companies before their business and personal relationship soured and Thompson successfully won a nearly $800,000 judgment from Goodwin.
The appeal by Gail Harper, Goodwin's attorney, is based on four major points:
1) Goodwin's ex-girlfriend, who he supposedly confessed to according to the prosecution, was unstable.
2) Some 9mm rounds that were said to have come from a gun Goodwin owned could not have come from his gun.
3) The couple's eyewitness testimony putting Goodwin near the murder scene before the shootings is unreliable.
4) More than 240 instances of the prosecution suppressing evidence that helped Goodwin's case.
As Cano explained to the Weekly, the couple told a sheriff's investigator shortly after the murders that they were behind a fence on their property, 15-20 feet from a car parked on the wrong side of a road and three-quarters of a mile away from the Thompson home in Bradbury, a community in the San Gabriel Mountains. The homicide investigator never followed up.
A cold-case detective did 11 years later. The couple's first interview with him indicated they did not get a good look at the two people inside the car, which they could only see from one side. One man could have had blond hair. The second person was black, then white. By the time of the trial in 2007, the couple confirmed they were 8-10 feet from the car that they'd now viewed from the side and rear. They positively identified Goodwin as an occupant.
Cano, who says he has spent three years researching the case and three months writing a 130-page screen treatment based on Blackford's book Who Really Killed Mickey Thompson?, says he just returned from the neighborhood where the couple said they saw Goodwin and a second person in a car. Cano says he measured from the property behind the fence and discovered the closest one can physically get to where they said the car was parked is 16 feet away. Based on where the couple said they were in relation to the car, it's more like 19-24 feet, according to Cano, who notes no one from the public defender's office that represented Goodwin measured off the distance, or at least they did not indicate they did during trial.
Cano wondered aloud why Goodwin, if he truly was behind the murders, would allow himself to be seen anywhere near the murder scene. And keep in mind the car was still three-quarters of a mile away from the Thompson home. If he was casing the joint, Cano asks, wouldn't he have come closer than that?
“I'm pretty motivated by this,” Cano said. “The whole thing is crazy. In my opinion, this was a total misuse of power by the state.”
He claims Campbell had ties to George W. Bush, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and the national GOP committee. “She used a lot of power and influence,” Cano said.
Some of that influence was over the personal attorney Campbell used to squeeze the $800,000 judgment funds from Goodwin: Tony Rackauckas. He went on to become Orange County's district attorney before his office made the unusual legal move of pressing a murder case that happened in Los Angeles County, a murder case that the district attorney there, Gil Garcetti, had turned down due to lack of evidence.
The OCDA proceeded in a local court under the legal theory that Goodwin planned the murders in Orange County. That move was stopped by a higher court, but a Pasadena judge ordered the case to continue in Los Angeles County.
The actual shooters who pulled the triggers of the guns that took the lives of Mickey and Trudy Thompson have never been identified or found. Cano says a big reason Goodwin was convicted was his defense was forbidden by the trial judge from presenting possible alternative murderers. Cano cites one juror who voted to convict having picked up the prosecution's line, “If not Goodwin, then who?”
In the years since the conviction, Blackford claims to have found many possible candidates, adding that the actual killers of Mickey and Trudy Thompson will be revealed in Chapter 41 of Who Really Killed Mickey Thompson?
“I'm uncovering more information,” Blackford said. “This is an ongoing story.”
The story continues with oral arguments scheduled to be heard at 9 this morning at the California Second District Court of Appeal, Division Eight, Ronald Reagan State Building, 300 S. Spring St., 2nd Floor, North Tower, Los Angeles.
An appellate court decision is expected within 90 to 120 days. Blackford is betting that justice will soon be served.
“Michael Goodwin will get out, either on this appeal or a federal habeas corpus case,” Blackford predicts. “It's just a matter of how long it will be before then.”
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.