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Troiani Recording Grips Courtroom : Told Police She OKd Paying Marines to Kill Her Husband

July 22, 1987|TOM GORMAN | Times Staff Writer

In a tape-recorded statement to police that held a Vista courtroom audience spellbound Tuesday, Laura Troiani matter-of-factly told investigators within 12 hours of her husband's death that she had agreed to pay three Marines $500 each to kill him.

She insisted to her interrogators that she had second thoughts about having her husband killed even though she was unhappily married, but was unable to stop the scheme once it was under way.

"Why would I want to have my husband shot? Sure, we had marital problems. Sure, I was having affairs on the side," she said at one point in the interview.

When a detective then suggested to her that, with her husband killed, she could pursue a relationship with one of the five former Marines also accused in the murder-for-hire plot, Troiani answered:

"I know, but I was having a ball, being married and fooling around. I'm not having a ball not being married. I'm up on a murder rap. I told these guys . . . not to do it. I begged them . . . "

Tire Tracks Matched Vehicle

Troiani, 25, and the five men were arrested by Oceanside police and Marine Corps authorities the morning after Marine Staff Sgt. Carlo Troiani, 37, was found shot to death on North River Road in eastern Oceanside in August, 1984.

Police were led quickly to Laura Troiani as a suspect because tracks at the scene matched her vehicle's tires, while Marine investigators at Camp Pendleton were tipped that some of the Marine suspects were boasting on base of having killed someone.

Troiani is charged with hiring the men for $500 each to kill her husband so she could collect on his life insurance proceeds and marry one of the defendants, who was her lover.

Each of the six defendants, who are being tried separately, is accused of killing for money, of lying in wait and of conspiracy to commit murder--all special circumstances that qualify the defendant, if convicted, for the death penalty.

The prosecution expects to wrap up its case today or Thursday. The defense will then begin its case, trying to show that Laura Troiani was vulnerable and was manipulated by the Marines to participate unwillingly in the killing.

Defense attorney Geraldine Russell said in her opening statement that Troiani was an "impressionable, simple young girl who got involved with the schemes of five young Marines."

"She was used by others who were looking for thrills and seeking some excitement in their own lives, and (she) got caught up in the action of what they were doing," Russell said, "and she was used by them for their own benefit and their own excitement."

Some of the 45 prosecution witnesses so far have testified that Troiani was unhappy in her marriage and openly plotted with the Marines--sometimes in the company of others--to "do a hit" on her husband. But it is Troiani's own statement to police that is considered by prosecutors to be the icing on their case.

Its admission into evidence was the subject of hours of closed courtroom debate and pretrial motions before Superior Court Judge Gilbert Nares. On Monday and Tuesday, Deputy Dist. Atty. Paul Pfingst finally played the unedited recording publicly for the first time.

Troiani listened seemingly without emotion to her recorded remarks, in which she first denied any knowledge of the crime and, in the end, discussed with police how she agreed to pay the Marines first $400, and then $500, to carry off the crime.

The killers were to be paid $100 more than originally promised, she said, because one of the plans--a car bomb--failed and the task had become "more difficult."

The interrogation lasted about 4 hours, spread out over a 12-hour period the day after Carlo Troiani was killed. During the questioning, detectives played out several bluffs to entice their suspect into giving more details.

Initially, the police--with little evidence to go on--believed that Carlo Troiani's slaying was a spur-of-the-moment killing after he accidentally happened across his wife's car, parked off to the side on a dark, desolate section of North River Road, and discovered her with a man, said Detective Robert George, who sat in the witness box while the tape was played.

He and Detective Ed Jacobs then pretended to have more evidence against her than they had to bait her into talking, and challenged her on inconsistencies in her statements.

They told Troiani of several witnesses to the crime--although in fact there were none--and several times they played on the fact that she should not try to protect the identity of the other suspects at the possible expense of not seeing her two young children "for 20 years" if convicted of murder.

The detectives were slow, patient and persistent in their questioning, sounding neither overly aggressive nor friendly and easygoing. But as the interrogation wore on, they were more abrupt and sharper with her, and aired incredulous disbelief as she changed and amended her statement over and over again.

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