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Newport Beach Developer Gets 29-to-Life Term : Courts: In second trial, prosecutors convince jury that Jim Hood killed the man he had hired to murder his wife.

February 26, 1994|RENE LYNCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN BERNARDINO — Once a fixture in Orange County social circles, millionaire Newport Beach developer Jim Hood was denounced Friday as a threat to society and ordered to spend 29 years to life in prison for shooting a man authorities believe Hood hired to kill his wife.

In a case that involved greed, illicit sex and murder, Hood was convicted in December of first-degree murder for the March 22, 1992, shooting of Bruce E. Beauchamp, a former construction worker employed by Hood.

Wearing a jail jumpsuit, Hood, 50, sat silently during the hearing. His attorney said Hood was extremely remorseful.

The prosecutor disagreed, describing the developer as a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

"The only reason he wishes this never happened is that he's now sitting here in orange," Deputy Dist. Atty. David Whitney told the judge. "He should get everything coming to him."

Throughout two trials, Hood protested his innocence and said he shot Beauchamp seven times in self defense. Beauchamp was the key suspect in the still-unsolved slaying of Hood's wife, Bonnie, who was shot to death in her Sierra Nevada lodge in Tulare County in August, 1990.

Prosecutors believe Hood hired Beauchamp to kill his wife so he could collect on a $900,000 insurance policy, and then decided to silence the gunman. Bonnie Hood's lover, who was with her at the time of the fatal attack, also was shot, but survived, and later testified that Beauchamp was the gunman. A jury, however, acquitted Beauchamp.

Authorities are investigating Hood's possible role in his wife's slaying.

On Friday, Hood's attorney, Philip C. Bourdette, asked that his client be allowed to remain free while appealing the conviction.

Tempers flared during a bail hearing that followed sentencing, as the prosecutor strongly argued against releasing Hood from custody.

"The whole motive in this case is to silence a witness," said Whitney, who also said witnesses in the case have already expressed fears that Hood would kill them if he is ever released. "He is a danger to society."

A first jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict last year and a new trial was ordered.

In some ways, the second trial proved more difficult for the prosecution because the judge barred Whitney from discussing Bonnie Hood's murder. As a result, the prosecution was forced to rely solely on evidence at the shooting scene, including blood splatters and palm prints.

Hood testified that Beauchamp was harassing and threatening him. He said he shot Beauchamp when the former employee stormed into his office and reached behind his back, as if for a weapon. Fearing for his life, he fired, Hood testified.

But a key piece of evidence that swayed the jury was the discovery of a gun in Beauchamp's right hand--seemingly supporting Hood's claim.

But Beauchamp was left-handed. The prosecutor accused Hood of planting the weapon.

Whitney also found his job made easier during the second trial when Hood again took the stand and contradicted statements he made the first time around.

In an unusual move, jurors from the first trial were called to testify to the contradictions for the second jury.

The second jury deliberated four days before finding Hood guilty.

But even then, a last-minute tangle was needed before this drama could play itself out.

Defense attorney Bourdette earlier this year surprised the court by alleging that jury misconduct may have led to a wrongful conviction.

A private investigator hired by the defense team said she found jurors had improperly discussed the case during breaks and over lunch. The jurors even made less-than-polite comparisons between the two defense attorneys' legal styles and talked about how attractive Hood's 19-year-old daughter appeared when she testified.

Bourdette alleged that jurors improperly re-enacted the murder during deliberations and made up their minds about Hood's guilt before deliberating the evidence.

But a juror who testified during a brief hearing Friday morning said the private investigator exaggerated his comments and said there was little substantive discussion about the evidence in the case prior to deliberations.

Judge Michael A. Smith agreed.

"If this is misconduct, it is at best inadvertent and trifling," Smith said, rejecting Bourdette's request for a new trial.

Afterward, Hood hung his head as he was led from the courtroom wearing a jail-issued uniform, his wrists and ankles shackled as he shuffled down the hallway on his way to a state penitentiary.

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