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Penalty Phase in Pearce Murder Trial Under Way

March 20, 1990|JONATHAN GAW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"She didn't do it," Roberta Pearce's mother whispered to Deputy Dist. Atty. Tim Casserly as she took the stand Monday in Vista Superior Court as the first witness in the penalty phase of her daughter's murder trial.

Pearce's mother, Minnie May Meadows, went on to describe her first daughter as being "very protective of her siblings," a brother and sister who will testify tomorrow.

"She had a good, loving background," Meadows said of Pearce's childhood in Spring City, Tenn. "We always read the Bible, always had prayer."

Roberta Pearce was convicted last week of the first-degree murder of her husband, Robert Wayne Pearce, on Jan. 31, 1989, with special circumstances. Because the jury found her guilty of lying in wait and killing for financial gain, Pearce will be sentenced to either life in a state prison without the possibility of parole or death in the gas chamber.

In the opening statements of the penalty phase, Casserly said that the state "will be relying on the evidence that has already been presented, the facts in this case" to argue for the death penalty.

"The evidence in this case that has been presented to you is sufficiently serious, sufficiently horrible that it warrants death in this case," Casserly said. "That factor alone outweighs any evidence that the defense could present."

Casserly conceded, however, that Pearce does not have any prior felony convictions and she did not exhibit any violence during the murder, two factors that could be considered mitigating in the penalty phase.

"She is not a vile and villainous person," Brad Patton, Pearce's attorney, said in his opening statement. "She has a life worth saving."

Patton said Pearce had a "normal, nurturing childhood" and that evidence will be submitted to "try to put in perspective what her life was about."

Patton talked about Pearce's failed first marriage, in which she lost both of her daughters in a divorce. After she married Robert Pearce, she tried to have another child, but even after seeing doctors and taking medication she was unable to do so, Patton said. The final straw was Robert Pearce's leaving her.

"That threw her into a tailspin that she couldn't really pull herself out of," Patton said.

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