A prosecutor vowed Tuesday to prove that two former Los Angeles police officers murdered a Northridge businessman five years ago for $20,000 paid them by the victim's former wife.
In opening arguments in the long-delayed trial of Richard Herman Ford and Robert Anthony Von Villas, Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert P. O'Neill described the victim's former wife as a "woman driven by a seething hatred."
Ford, 47, and Von Villas, 44, are accused of murdering Thomas Weed, 52, who disappeared from his Northridge apartment Feb. 23, 1983. Weed's body never has been found, but prosecutors allege that he was killed and buried in the desert.
His former wife, Janie E. Ogilvie, 45, is the key witness against the two former officers, who are on trial in Van Nuys Superior Court. She and Weed owned a Northridge allergy laboratory.
After a volatile marriage and a divorce in 1983, Ogilvie sought a hit man to kill Weed, who she feared was trying to "steal the lab from her," O'Neill alleged.
Ford and Von Villas, who worked at the Police Department's Devonshire division until the day after their arrest nearly five years ago, are being tried together before Judge Darlene E. Schempp, but are being judged by separate juries.
If convicted, they could receive the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole.
O'Neill gave separate opening statements, both essentially the same, to the two juries.
Ogilvie's name was given by a friend to Ford and Von Villas, authorities said. After a series of negotiations, Von Villas agreed to kill Weed for $20,000, to be paid in three installments, authorities said.
O'Neill quoted Von Villas as telling Ogilvie that her husband would "just disappear. He'll vanish. There's a lot of desert between here and Las Vegas."
After his disappearance, Weed's car was found abandoned in a parking lot at Los Angeles International Airport. Investigators found unpacked suitcases in his apartment and food in his refrigerator.
O'Neill told jurors he will introduce as evidence a 1983 calendar seized from Ford's house with the date Feb. 23 blacked out and a recording of a Dec. 20, 1983, conversation between Ford and his wife taped in the Los Angeles County jail. In that conversation, authorities said, Ford said he was worried about police finding a shotgun and remarked "there's no body."
Ford's attorney, Richard P. Lasting, told the jury: "The evidence will show that Robert Von Villas offered to kill Tom Weed . . . . You will not hear from any of the witnesses, not a one, that Richard Ford offered to kill Weed," he said.
Lasting and Von Villas's attorney, Jack R. Stone, told the juries that the four major prosecution witnesses gave false testimony implicating the two officers in exchange for lesser charges from prosecutors.
Ogilvie, who has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and conspiracy charges and could be sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, could have been sentenced to death or life in prison without possibility of parole if convicted of murder, Lasting noted.
"Here is a woman that is looking to sell something," Stone said. "She's looking to sell herself away from death and sell someone else into death."
The defense attorneys said Ogilvie once boasted to a relative of being smart enough to get away with murder.
'Money and Sex'
Lasting quoted from a letter in which Ogilvie wrote that Weed's primary interest in her was "money and sex." Ogilvie wrote in the letter that her anger at Weed was "sufficient to let me tear the flesh off his bones with my bare hands."
Ford, of Northridge, and Von Villas, of Simi Valley, were sentenced in March to 71 years to life in prison for attempting to murder Granada Hills exotic dancer Joan Loguercio in 1983 to collect a $100,000 life insurance policy and for robbing a Northridge jewelry store in 1982.
The present trial is expected to last six to nine months.