Convicted murderer Laura Troiani's bid for a mistrial was rejected out of hand Wednesday by Superior Court Judge Gilbert Nares, who characterized the prosecution's case against her as "overwhelming."
"I've never seen a case that had so much evidence," Nares said, speaking for the first time on the district attorney's prosecution of Troiani and rejecting defense motions that the verdict of first-degree murder be reduced or set aside altogether in favor of a new trial.
"We could have done without two-thirds of the evidence submitted," Nares said of the prosecution's case against Troiani, who was convicted Aug. 26 of plotting the murder of her husband three years ago.
The jury, deliberating less than nine hours, found Laura Troiani, 26, guilty of hiring five then-Marines to help kill her husband of five years so she could collect his life insurance and continue an affair with one of the co-defendants. Carlo Troiani, 37, was shot in the back of the head the night of Aug. 9, 1984, after being lured to a desolate Oceanside road on the pretense that his wife had car trouble.
The jury found Troiani guilty of special circumstances in that she killed her husband for financial gain and by lying in wait, but spared Troiani the death penalty and sentenced her instead to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"The evidence in this case is so overwhelming," Nares repeated often. "It's not just a wave (of evidence). It's a tsunami of evidence. It is competent, it is admissible, it's there and it's clear."
Defense attorneys Geraldine Russell and Thomas Bowden had asked Nares first for a mistrial, then for a new trial or a reduction of the guilty verdict and sentence, on the grounds that they had learned of information after the trial that might have been used for Troiani's defense.
Specifically, the defense contended that it learned too late that a prosecution witness may have been too intoxicated at the time he discussed with Troiani the murder of her husband to have been able to accurately relate that conversation to the jury.
Nares rejected that contention, saying that it was clear from the preliminary hearing transcripts and from the testimony of the witness that he had been drinking while talking to Troiani about killing her husband, and that the specific degree to which he was intoxicated would not have swayed the jury to reach a different verdict.
The defense also argued that it was told too late by the district attorney's office of a possible witness who had heard the five co-defendants describe themselves as hit men for hire even before they were enlisted by Laura Troiani.
Nares said that had the witness testified, he would have helped the prosecution's case, not Troiani's, and therefore his not coming forward did not cheat Troiani of a full and complete defense.
Bowden argued that the witness would have helped the jury better understand that Troiani was caught up in the lethal thrill-seeking of the five co-defendants, each of whom are yet to stand trial for the same first-degree murder charges.
Nares said that Troiani could not be excused for her actions, even if it took five co-defendants to help her carry them out.
"Who stood to gain by Carlo Troiani's death?" Nares asked.
"That's an interesting question," Bowden said.
"No, it's a simple question to answer," Nares retorted. "The only person who would gain by the death of Carlo Troiani was Laura Troiani. You know why it took the jury so little time (to reach its guilty verdict)? The evidence was overwhelming . . . that she had her husband executed."
His voice rising with indignation, Nares continued: "She referred to the execution of her husband as 'a job.' The execution of a human being as 'a job.' "
When Bowden suggested that Troiani was stupid and foolish in how she tried to lie to police interrogators about the murder, Nares replied, "You don't have to be bright to be cold and calculated."
Said Bowden, "You don't spend the rest of your life in prison without the possibility of parole for stupidity. You need evil, criminal intent."
Answered Nares, "I think the jury saw that."
At one point, the hearing evolved into a sort of post-mortem rehash of the strengths and weaknesses of the defense and prosecution cases. Nares said that the defense's key witness, a psychiatrist who testified that Troiani was too enveloped in a fog of depression and melancholia to prevent the killing of her husband, was simply unbelievable to the jury. On the other hand, Nares said, a marriage and family counselor was far more credible when he testified for the prosecution that when he counseled the Troianis, he found Laura Troiani to be manipulative.
Formal sentencing of Troiani is scheduled for Nov. 2, after which she'll be relocated from the County Jail at Las Colinas in Santee to the California Institution for Women in Frontera.
Bowden said appeals to the 4th District Court of Appeal would be filed after sentencing.