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'Redeeming Value' Spared Troiani From Gas Chamber

October 07, 1987|TOM GORMAN | Times Staff Writer

The jury foreman in the penalty phase of the Laura Troiani murder trial said Tuesday that the evidence was "overwhelming" that the 26-year-old mother of two murdered her husband, but that she could not vote for Troiani's execution because "there was some redeeming value in the individual."

"Some people may feel, 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.' But even though it was a tragic and cold deed, we cannot bring back (murder victim) Carlo Troiani," said Linda Mathis of Oceanside. Mathis served as foreman as the jury deliberated whether to sentence Laura Troiani to death in the gas chamber or life in prison without the possibility of parole for the Aug. 9, 1984, murder of her husband of five years.

"I felt, partly because of my Christian background, that maybe through the help of God and considering the background she came from, that somehow through her experience maybe she could reach out to her brother or sister or mother or someone in prison," Mathis said.

(Troiani's brother is serving time in a Washington prison for sexually molesting a young boy; her sister is the mother of two illegitimate children, and her mother was characterized in the trial as slovenly, preferring soap operas and romance novels to caring for her home and children.)

"We had already found her (Troiani) guilty of murder to the highest degree possible," Mathis said. "The prosecutor put on a very good case and in considering the evidence, there was just no other way to go. The evidence was overwhelming.

"But in the second phase (the penalty phase), we weren't so much guided by the law but by individual feelings of sympathy," Mathis said. "My heart goes out to Carlo Troiani. When I think about what happened, I cry over it.

"But in the second phase, there were other things to consider, and every juror did that," Mathis said. "Our verdict didn't have to do much with her upbringing or the psychologists' testimony we heard. I just felt there was some redeeming value in the individual."

She said that at no time during the 12 1/2 hours of deliberations did the jury appear split on its ultimate verdict.

Juror John Umphreyville added: "It just took us that long to confirm what we wanted to do."

Superior Court Judge Gilbert Nares on Tuesday ordered Troiani returned to court on Nov. 2 for formal sentencing and set an Oct. 21 hearing date for a motion for mistrial by defense attorney Geraldine Russell.

Russell said she also is preparing to appeal the conviction to the state 4th Court of Appeal.

Key Issues

Among the issues, she said, are the sufficiency of evidence leading to Troiani's conviction, whether there was evidence presented in the penalty phase of the trial that might have swayed the jury differently had it been allowed to be introduced during the guilt phase, and the effect of pretrial publicity.

Russell said she also will monitor the trial of accused Troiani triggerman Mark Schulz, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His trial is expected to begin in January.

Schulz is one of five former Marines accused of carrying out Laura Troiani's plot to kill her husband, and will be the first of the co-defendants to go to trial, now that Troiani's is completed.

The San Diego County district attorney's office maintained that Laura Troiani wanted her husband dead so she could collect $95,000 in life insurance benefits and continue an affair with one of the co-defendants.

The jury found that Carlo Troiani was murdered in an ambush and for financial gain, which are labeled special circumstances leading to one of only two sentences: death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"If Schulz's jury finds him not guilty by reason of insanity, he would go off to a hospital and receive treatment, which is all well and good," Russell said. "But it would leave Laura with a higher punishment than the person who perpetrated the crime, if that is in fact the jury's finding.

"Then we obviously would be concerned by the disproportionality of punishment, and there are provisions that allow for review of the punishment based on the culpability of other people in the case."

Russell said the appeal process might take two to five years. In any event, Troiani will be relocated to the California Institution for Women at Frontera a week or so after her Nov. 2 sentencing, authorities say.

Troiani Is 'Very Sick'

Troiani, said Russell, is "very sick, very ill and tired and upset because of the stress of this whole thing. I am very concerned. She's under medication for depression, a very strong medication, but she is also physically very ill."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Phil Walden characterized Russell's promise of post-trial motions and appeals as "grabbing at straws."

"There is no foundation, no substance, for any motions for mistrial," Walden said. "We were very careful."

Juror Mathis said she cannot fault Russell for any portion of Troiani's defense.

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