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Killer Says Policeman Ordered Murders : Crime: Witness says William Leasure, also suspected of masterminding a yacht theft ring operated partly in Newport beach, hired him.

April 19, 1991|LOIS TIMNICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LOS ANGELES — An admitted hired killer testified Thursday that he murdered two people on orders from veteran Los Angeles policeman William Leasure and drove the car in a third shooting that he said was paid for by Leasure.

Dennis France, 45, testifying under a promise of immunity from prosecution, told jurors that he contacted police after Leasure's 1986 arrest because he got nervous.

"Me and Bill (Leasure) had done a lot of things together," France said. "We'd bought (gun) silencers, we'd stole boats, we'd killed people, we'd broken into places."

Asked by Deputy Dist. Atty. Jim Koller whether he had been worried that he, too, might be arrested, France replied:

"No. Not so much as I was afraid of being killed . . . I knew of the murders and I could connect him with 'em."

The witness said Leasure drove the getaway car for two slayings, "plus he paid me and arranged 'em and set 'em up."

France said Leasure paid him $3,500 for shooting Ann Smith, a friend's wife, who was robbed and killed in her mother's Highland Park beauty shop on the eve of the couple's acrimonious divorce hearing in May, 1980.

"(Leasure) told me to go in and make it look like a robbery and then shoot, and that's what I done," France testified. "I told Bill there was people inside and I couldn't do it. He told me it had to be done today and we weren't coming back.

"I just went in and did it."

Leasure was arrested in 1986 aboard a stolen yacht near Oakland, and is suspected of masterminding a multimillion-dollar yacht theft ring which allegedly operated partly in Newport Beach. He faces charges in Northern California alleging the reselling of stolen pleasure boats and insurance fraud.

In September, 1981, France said Leasure engaged him again, this time to kill Tony de los Reyes, the husband of a woman who was a friend of Leasure's. France said that when the intended victim left a San Fernando Valley bar, Leasure waited in the car in the back alley with the motor running after telling France, who was armed with a shotgun, to rob him.

"I told Tony to bring me his wallet, but he put his girlfriend in the car and walked around to the other side. I told Bill he wasn't bringing me his wallet.

"Bill said, 'Shoot,' so I shot," France testified.

France, a short, stocky man who speaks matter-of-factly about killing and other crimes, said he had been present in a friend's Paramount apartment when Leasure arrived with an envelope containing $1,000 the witness said was partial payment for a third murder--the 1977 shooting of Tony de los Reyes' wealthy stepfather, Gilberto Cervantes. France said he had not yet met Leasure when he drove the car for the triggerman, who told him "a police officer wanted this done."

Leasure, who was fired from the Police Department in 1988 for knowingly possessing a stolen vehicle, is charged with murder and conspiracy in the deaths of Smith and De los Reyes. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

The defense, which is expected to cross-examine France today, has characterized the prosecution's star witness as "a liar, thief, extortionist, schemer and braggart."

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