After deliberating fewer than six hours, a Pasadena Superior Court jury convicted a South Carolina man on Wednesday of first-degree murder in the torture slaying of a Glendale pizza deliveryman.
Mitchell Carleton Sims, 26, was convicted of two special circumstance allegations--robbery and lying in wait--in killing John Steven Harrigan, a 21-year-old Domino's Pizza clerk, in a motel room on Dec. 9, 1985. Sims, a former Domino's employee who allegedly had a grudge against the chain, also faces extradition to South Carolina, where he is charged with the shooting deaths of two Domino's pizza employees six days before Harrigan's death.
Sims smirked at the press as the verdict was read in a packed courtroom. He was also convicted Wednesday of robbing and attempting to murder two of Harrigan's co-workers at the Glendale pizza parlor the same night as the murder.
The Pasadena jury is to begin deliberating on June 1 whether Sims should be sent to the gas chamber or placed in prison without possibility of parole.
"The death Mr. Harrigan suffered was very, very cruel, very sadistic. I would have been flabbergasted at any other verdict," prosecutor Terry A. Green said.
Throughout the four-week trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. Green contended that Sims targeted the restaurant to avenge a smoldering hatred, arising from a pay dispute. Sims worked in South Carolina as a manager and later as a driver for the pizza chain.
Green portrayed Sims as a calculating murderer who "meticulously" mapped out Harrigan's death by ordering a pizza to lure him to the Glendale motel room where Sims and companion Ruby Carolyn Padgett, 21, waited.
Harrigan's bound and gagged body was found by police submerged in the room's bathtub. A washcloth had been stuffed in his mouth and a pillow case tied over his head. The coroner listed strangulation and drowning as the causes of death.
Defense attorney Morton P. Borenstein argued that Sims may not have intended to kill Harrigan and suggested during closing arguments that Harrigan, struggling to free himself, may have slipped in the bathtub, knocked himself unconscious and drowned as the tub filled with water. Abrasions on Harrigan's nose and forehead could have been a result of such a fall, Borenstein said.
On Wednesday, Borenstein said: "The verdict was not unexpected. This was a strong circumstantial evidence case."
After killing Harrigan, the couple drove Harrigan's pickup truck to the Glendale pizzeria, where Sims robbed Harrigan's co-workers, Kory Spiroff and Edmund Sicam. Sims left the men tied to metal racks inside a walk-in food cooler in such a way that they had to stand on their tip toes to avoid strangulation.
It was only a "miracle" that two of Spiroff's friends visited the restaurant during the robbery, realized that something was amiss and contacted police, Green told jurors.
Padgett, who claimed she was only an unwilling observer of the murder, was convicted in February of robbery and first-degree murder in Harrigan's death. She was also convicted of robbing the Brand Boulevard pizza shop. Padgett, acquitted of attempting to murder Spiroff and Sicam, is to be sentenced May 29 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Green reminded jurors this week of statements Sims made to Glendale Homicide Detective Jon Perkins after the couple were arrested in Las Vegas on Christmas Day, 1985.
"I had to kill that boy," Sims, allegedly told Perkins, referring to Harrigan. The statement was not recorded. In a conversation taped the next day, Sims told Perkins: "I'm not a murderer either. That means I just got drunk. . . . I knew I was doing it, but I shouldn't have done it."