SANTA ANA — Two men who pleaded guilty to a murder conspiracy charge for the near-fatal attack on a former Marine testified Thursday that they never intended to kill the man.
John Caravaggio and Scott Smith testified that they thought they were going to be paid $500 to beat Wilbur Constable with baseball bats and had no idea that their partner, Blake Tek Yoon, would pull out a handgun and shoot the man in the back of the head.
"I intended to beat him up a little bit and go home," Smith testified.
Caravaggio insisted the plan was to "just beat the guy up."
If the plan was really to commit a murder, Yoon misled them, both men testified.
Prosecutors contend that Constable was supposed to be killed in a twisted plot hatched by Orange County businessman Julius F. Schill, who wanted him dead so he could pursue a love affair with Cynthia Asher, Constable's fiancee and Schill's secretary.
Prosecutors allege that Schill paid co-defendant Richard M. Dota $21,000 to arrange the contract killing. Dota, a reputed Las Vegas mobster, then hired Yoon and, indirectly, his two associates for the contract, prosecutors contend.
Schill, 57, of San Juan Capistrano and Dota, 55, of Las Vegas have pleaded innocent to charges of conspiracy and murder-for-hire. They are being tried together in U.S. District Court.
Although Smith and Caravaggio have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and agreed to help the prosecution in exchange for a lighter prison sentence, the two men were called as part of Dota's defense case.
With their testimony, federal Public Defender H. Dean Steward attempted to show that the attack on Constable was only supposed to be a beating, not a murder.
Both men told the jury they beat Constable with bats in a secluded Irvine parking lot on the night of Oct. 11, 1991. Caravaggio said that he broke a bat over Constable's leg after two hits and went back to his car to get another one to finish the beating.
Both Caravaggio and Smith said they were surprised when Yoon pulled out a gun and grabbed Constable's head.
"Blake leaned down and was doing something in the back of his head and then I heard a shot," said Caravaggio. "It looked like some debris had come out of the front of (Constable's) head."
Smith testified that he was shocked by the shooting.
Even with a bullet shot into his brain, Constable miraculously survived.
Despite the pair's testimony about not intending to help murder Constable, Smith's statements under cross-examination may have dealt a blow to Dota's defense by linking the defendant to the crime.