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Witness Says Murder Defendant Hated Pizza Chain

May 07, 1987|STEPHANIE O'NEILL | Times Staff Writer

Mitchell Carleton Sims, accused of murdering a Domino's Pizza deliveryman in Glendale, had a smoldering hatred against the chain where he once worked as a manager, a former girlfriend testified at his trial this week.

The prosecutor in the case said he called Deborah Kennah to the witness stand to show that Sims' anger toward both Domino's and a former boss led to the Dec. 9, 1985, torture-slaying of John Steven Harrigan, 21.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Terry A. Green said he did not know of Kennah's existence until two weeks ago when she was located by South Carolina authorities who were seeking her to testify in a related case. The late introduction of the witness forced a five-day delay in the start of the trial.

Kennah, 30, told a Pasadena Superior Court jury this week that Sims quit his job as manager for a West Columbia, S.C. Domino's store, bought a gun and then threatened to blow up the pizzeria in order to avenge what he felt was unfair treatment by his boss and co-workers.

The South Carolina native, flown to California for the trial, testified Tuesday that Sims hated both the pizza chain's policies and his former supervisor, David Littman.

Talk of Explosives

"He said if he was still in the Army he could get ahold of some explosives and rig them up to the door. . .hoping Dave Littman would open the door in the morning and it would blow him up."

Kennah said Sims never attempted to carry out the plan but, on a separate occasion while driving past the pizza store and spotting Littman inside, said he wanted to throw a Molotov cocktail, a hand-made gasoline bomb, into the restaurant.

"I told him I didn't want anything to do with anything like that. That, if he wanted to do it, he could go ahead and do it and drop me off," she testified.

Angered over a reduction in a bonus payment, Sims designed a twofold strategy of revenge against Littman in which all the employees at the West Columbia restaurant would quit en masse, leaving the supervisor with no assistance, Kennah told the jury. Then, Sims would mail a letter to Domino's corporate headquarters outlining his complaints about Littman in an attempt to get him fired, she said. According to the scheme, curious corporate officials would contact Sims for further details about the walkout, fire Littman and rehire the other employees, she said.

However, Kennah, who was hired by Sims in February, 1985, and Sims were the only employees to quit their jobs and the plan failed. An angry Sims bought a gun and began speaking incessantly of revenge, Kennah testified.

"He was wanting to get revenge on Dave Littman, Domino's and the drivers," she said, adding that the only retaliatory action Sims carried out against the West Columbia store was phoning in fake pizza orders. However, Sims is accused of killing two Domino's employees in another South Carolina town seven months after leaving West Columbia.

Nevertheless, Kennah told jurors, she left Sims two weeks after they quit their jobs.

"He just started scaring me, always talking about revenge and doing things to people," she testified.

Under cross-examination, Kennah testified that she and Sims used drugs together and occasionally drank to excess, but denied that he was intoxicated or under the influence of drugs when making threats against the pizza parlor and its employees.

Sims, who has not seen Kennah since their break-up in May, 1985, stared at his ex-girlfriend as she testified, occasionally smiling at her when she looked at him.

After Kennah's testimony, Green called to the witness stand Marilyn Walter, a Glendale Sears clerk who sold Sims and his companion, Ruby Carolyn Padgett, clothesline and a knife on the day of the murder.

Purchase Recalled

Walter said the sale stood out in her memory because "I was wondering why a young couple was buying clothesline when most young couples have a Laundromat to go to, or own their own washer and dryer."

Green contends Sims used the rope to tie Harrigan before killing him.

Over objections from Sims' attorney, Morton P. Borenstein, Judge Jack B. Tso ruled on Tuesday that a jury field trip to the Colorado Street motel where Harrigan was killed and to the Domino's Pizza parlor would be permitted.

Green expected to wrap up his case today. The defense is expected to begin presenting its case Monday. However, Borenstein declined comment on the defense strategy and refused to say whether Sims would testify.

Sims faces one count of first-degree murder and one count of armed robbery in the strangulation drowning of Harrigan, whose hog-tied body was discovered submerged in a bathtub at the Regalodge Motel in Glendale. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

The South Carolina native is also charged with the robbery and attempted murder of two co-workers of the slain man at the Brand Boulevard pizza restaurant later the night of the slaying. Police found the two locked inside a walk-in cooler at the restaurant, tied to steel food racks in a manner that forced them to stand on their tiptoes to avoid strangulation.

Sims' companion Padgett, 21, was tried on the same charges earlier this year and convicted in February of robbery and first-degree murder in Harrigan's death. She was also convicted of robbing the Glendale pizza parlor, but acquitted of the charges of attempted murder in that incident. Padgett could get life in prison without possibility of parole when sentenced May 29.

After the trial here, Sims will be extradited to South Carolina, where he is charged in the Dec. 3, 1985, robbery and shooting deaths of two Domino's Pizza employees in Hanahan.

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