PASADENA — The district attorney's office plans to resume prosecution today of a Pasadena man accused of murdering an elderly relative, even though the defense contends that his mother has confessed to the killing.
Saying that "nothing has changed" since the existence of LaVerne Dennis' purported tape-recorded confession was disclosed when the trial opened last week in Superior Court, Deputy Dist. Atty. Terry Green said he will proceed with his case against her 33-year-old son, John Iner Botting.
"Obviously, we have to believe that the man is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or we don't try the case," Green said.
Botting is accused of strangling Iner Alvin Thor, his mother's former brother-in-law, to collect money from Thor's estate. Murder for financial gain can be punished by death or by life in prison without parole. The former auto restorer has maintained his innocence and is facing his second trial on the charges. His first ended last year in a hung jury. Botting has been in jail since his arrest in July, 1984, a few weeks after Thor, 78, was killed.
Defense attorney Rayford Fountain, who disclosed the existence of the alleged confession to jurors in his opening statement last Thursday, said the tape was made during an interview with Dennis in November. Fountain did not play the tape to jurors, but a copy was made available to the prosecution. The defense allowed The Times to listen to the tape.
On the tape recording, a sobbing woman who identified herself as Dennis said she strangled Thor during a drunken argument in the bedroom of the Pasadena house she and her son were sharing temporarily with the victim. The woman said that her son was out all night with friends and did not return home until several hours after the killing.
"Iner found me and he got mad because I poured out his booze," the woman said during the taped interview with Fountain. " . . . He called me in around 3 or 3:30 (a.m.) and he kept screaming . . . 'What'd you do with my booze?' He grabbed my hair and pulled me and we struggled.
"He's strong in the hands. I had a (rope) belt and he grabbed it and I took it away from him and strangled him. . . . I put it (the belt) around his neck to hold him down and I guess I killed him. I meant to keep him away . . . I didn't realize I killed him."
Dennis has refused comment concerning the tape. Her attorney, Robert J. Brown, said in an interview that he has advised her to take the Fifth Amendment if she is called to testify during Botting's trial.
Brown has confirmed that his client has made a "taped statement" and said he believes that it is admissible as evidence. "The only thing I can tell you is that there is one and it (the statement) is on tape," he said.
On the tape, the woman identified as Dennis said she told her daughter Rondi Edwards that she killed Thor. Edwards confirmed in an interview with The Times that her mother confessed to her.
Fountain said he intends to play the tape today for Judge Lillian Stevens and to ask her to dismiss the charges "in the interest of justice." If that fails, Fountain said, he will ask the judge to release Botting from jail and to turn over prosecution of the case to the state attorney general's office where he said he believes his client will receive fairer treatment.
Stevens had recessed the trial until Monday to give Green and investigators time to review the tape, but the judge became ill and resumption of the trial was postponed until today. Stevens could not be reached for comment, but said last week she would not discuss details of the case with reporters.
Green declined to discuss the contents of the tape in specific terms, but said:
"In this case, as in every case, we are open to new evidence. Based on what I know now, nothing's changed. Pieces of evidence can't be taken by themselves. We have carefully analyzed what we have, objectively analyzed what we have, and we are ready to proceed with the trial.
Fountain said he believes the tape "has the ring of truth" to it. "She broke down and cried," he said. "If I didn't think there was truth to it, I'd probably have kept my mouth shut and gone on with my defense. Most parents aren't willing to sacrifice their lives for a grown son.
"I think the district attorney's office and especially Mr. Green have a vested interest in prosecuting this case, which blinds them from objectively scrutinizing the confession that was made by the mother. My client was amazed that the D.A. intends to prosecute him after his mother came forward and confessed to the crime. They're very hard-nosed. My only worry is that the D.A.'s office has lost sight of the fact that they truly may have an innocent man on trial."
In a statement delivered by Fountain to reporters last Thursday, Botting said: "I was stunned by the whole thing. I desperately wanted the truth to come out, but I'm very sorry that it came out the way it did."