For the past six weeks, a Pasadena Superior Court jury has heard two contradictory descriptions of the role of a South Carolina woman accused in the torture slaying of a Glendale pizza deliveryman. On Wednesday, the jury began deliberating in an effort to determine which of them is true.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Terry A. Green argued that Ruby Carolyn Padgett, 21, is a "consummate liar" who played an equal role with her boyfriend--Mitchell Carleton Sims, 26, also of South Carolina--in the December, 1985, motel-room murder of Domino's Pizza deliveryman John Steven Harrigan.
"What we have is a crime team," he said. "Two people working together to reach a common goal."
Quoting a line from a rock tune, Green described the couple as "two young lovers with nothing better to do," and said they committed crimes for "kicks" and with "absolute amoral callousness."
Padgett's attorney, meanwhile, portrayed his client as a "passive" observer of the murder who, out of fear for her own life, obeyed Sims and fled with him from South Carolina to Florida and later to Glendale.
"Ruby regrets--and will for the rest of her life--that she ever met this man," defense attorney Rayford Fountain told the seven-woman, five-man jury during closing arguments, which concluded Tuesday. A verdict is expected next week.
Padgett is on trial before Pasadena Superior Court Judge Jack B. Tso on one count of first-degree murder and one count of armed robbery in the Dec. 9 slaying in which the 21-year-old Harrigan's bound body was found submerged in a bathtub at the Regalodge Motel in Glendale. A washcloth had been stuffed in his mouth and a pillow case was tied over his head.
The Los Angeles County coroner's office listed strangulation as the cause of Harrigan's death, and later added drowning.
Padgett also is facing two counts of attempted murder and two counts of armed robbery in connection with an attack on two of Harrigan's co-workers at the Brand Boulevard Domino's Pizza parlor later that night.
Robbery victims Kory Spiroff and Edmund Sicam were found alive, tied to metal shelves in a darkened food freezer in such a manner that they had to stand on their tip-toes to avoid strangulation.
If convicted, Padgett could be sentenced to life in prison without parole. The prosecution did not seek the death penalty against Padgett because of her age and her lack of a previous criminal record.
Sims will be tried separately on the same charges at the conclusion of Padgett's trial. Prosecutors, citing his criminal record, are seeking the death penalty.
Green argued that the crimes required "extensive planning and orchestration" by both suspects.
During closing arguments, Green reviewed evidence that the couple ordered pizza by telephone shortly after 11 p.m. Harrigan arrived at the Colorado Street motel about 11:30 p.m., 30 minutes before Domino's closing hour.
It would have been improbable that Sims, working alone, could have moved fast enough to rob Harrigan, tie him, fill the bathtub, kill him, dump his body into the tub, change into Harrigan's Domino's Pizza T-shirt and drive to the pizza parlor to commit the robbery before it closed at midnight, Green said.
"Timing was of the essence," the prosecutor said. "They were working together as a team--one can't work without the other."
Fountain, however, called Green's statements "mostly hot air" and "baloney."
Throughout the trial, Fountain attempted to show that Padgett was a victim of a violent childhood that forced her into a pattern of complying with violent men, such as Sims.
During the testimony, Padgett broke into tears as she recounted witnessing her father shoot her mother in the face with a handgun. She also described witnessing her father stab her mother with a pitchfork and said she remembered on another occasion taking her mother to the hospital after her mother was severely beaten by her father. Her mother never brought charges against her father and her parents are still married, she said. Padgett said she left home at age 15 to escape the "hateful" environment.
During the subsequent five years, Padgett said, she entered into a series of abusive relationships with violent men.
When Padgett met Sims in September, 1985, he bolstered her low self-esteem by professing his love for her and "seemed like a nice guy," Fountain said.
"The man is a psycho but she didn't know that at the time," the defense attorney told jurors.
Sims also is facing murder charges in connection with the shooting deaths of two Domino's employees in Hanahan, S.C., a suburb of Charleston, six days before Harrigan's death. One of the victims identified Sims as the attacker before he died from gunshot wounds in the neck and head. Padgett is charged with aiding and abetting that attack.
Padgett claimed that she had no knowledge of the Hanahan murders until hearing a radio bulletin the following day. She said Sims threatened to kill her if she did not flee with him from South Carolina.
"I was afraid of Mitch Sims all the time," she told the jury.