Speaking slowly and matter-of-factly, a 16-year-old Escondido boy testified to a spellbound Vista courtroom Tuesday how he and a friend stabbed Robert (Wayne) Pearce to death outside his Cardiff apartment 13 months ago--after they had been promised a share of Pearce's $200,000 life insurance policy by Pearce's estranged wife.
Isaac Hill, who already has pleaded guilty in Juvenile Court to first-degree murder, said he was asked by Roberta Pearce to kill her husband, and that she was angry when he returned to her Valley Center home after the stabbing because Robert Pearce was still alive when airlifted to Palomar Medical Center.
"I said we had done it, we had killed Mr. Pearce," Hill said. "She said the hospital had called that he was alive, and that they wanted her at the hospital.
"She was mad. She said, 'He's not dead and you're not going to have the opportunity to do it again,' " Hill said. "She mentioned she'd have to play a role" at the hospital.
Hill's testimony in Superior Court Judge Franklin Mitchell's courtroom was clearly the most dramatic in the opening day of the trial. Other witnesses told of how, based on the trail of blood, mortally wounded Robert Pearce--stabbed more than 20 times with a knife and a hatchet--clearly struggled from the parking lot to his third-floor apartment, where he finally collapsed in a pool of blood, his stomach ripped open from the attack and the knife still lodged in his back.
David Brandsen testified that he watched part of the attack from his second-story apartment window as Pearce was pummeled by the two assailants. The second attacker, Anthony Pilato, also has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and both he and Hill have been sentenced to the California Youth Authority until their 25th birthdays.
"I was awakened at about 5:45 by the sounds of a man being hit. I could hear the thuds of him being hit," Brandsen said. "The man was in the fetal position . . . and one man was standing over his head--with one foot on either side of his head, bent down and beating him, and another man with one foot on each side of his legs was doing the same thing.
"The man couldn't do anything. Their (the assailants') hands were going as fast as they could," Brandsen said.
Roberta Pearce, 42, a former teacher's aide at Orange Glen High School in Escondido, is charged with first-degree murder and faces the death penalty if convicted because of alleged special circumstances of killing for financial gain and lying in wait. Both Pilato and Hill were students at Orange Glen High School at the time of the slaying.
Defense attorney William Fletcher told the jury during his opening statement Tuesday that Pearce would testify on her own behalf. Fletcher argued that the two boys, both 15 at the time, decided on their own to kill Robert Pearce because of their own perception that Roberta Pearce wanted him dead so she wouldn't lose the couple's Valley Center home in divorce proceedings.
"The evidence will show that Anthony Pilato and Isaac Hill are not only killers, they are liars," Fletcher said of the two teens' laying blame on his client. He argued, too, that Hill had offered several explanations to Sheriff's Department investigators after the killing and that the two teens ultimately decided to blame Roberta Pearce in order to protect themselves.
Hill and Pilato were put up to the killing by a 16-year-old girl who lived with Roberta Pearce and who feared she would no longer be able to live with the woman if she lost her house in the pending divorce, Fletcher contended. The girl has not been charged in the crime.
Roberta Pearce was "stunned" that her 14-year marriage was ending and that her husband had moved in with a younger woman in Cardiff, Fletcher said. But after allowing her sprawling home to be used as a hangout for the 16-year-old housemate's friends, she demanded that they leave. They refused, he said--and instead, on Jan. 31, 1989, her husband was killed by Pilato and Hill.
"She'll tell you in no uncertain terms that she did not solicit, conspire or in any way encourage the death of Mr. Robert Pearce," Fletcher said.
Hill, however, painted a decidedly different picture during his 75 minutes on the stand, and constantly referred to the defendant--who was dressed Tuesday in a navy blue, belted dress with a maroon-and-tan scarf draped over her left shoulder--as "Miss Pearce."
Hill testified that he first met Roberta Pearce about two weeks before the killing, when she drove him and Pilato first to her husband's place of work--a construction company in Vista--then to his apartment in Cardiff, where they cased the layout of the building.
Hill said the meeting was set up by Pilato. "I asked, 'Why?' He said she wanted us to do a job. I didn't know what the job was," Hill said.