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Jury Finds L.A. Man Guilty of 2 Murders

Courts: The first victim was shot during an attempted computer store robbery in Fountain Valley. The second was a witness.

May 22, 1996|ANNA CEKOLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — A Los Angeles man was convicted of double murder Tuesday for masterminding a botched computer store robbery that ended in the slaying of a passerby, and for ordering the killing of a witness against him.

William Clinton Clark, 42, now faces a possible death sentence.

Clark sat with his arms loosely crossed, whispering to his lawyer, as a clerk announced seven guilty verdicts on charges of first-degree murder, attempted robbery, burglary and conspiracy.

"We put it in God's hands," a sister of the slain witness said after the verdicts. "She's in a better place than we are."

Clark vehemently denied any role in either killing, and his lawyer contended that authorities lacked any physical evidence, such as fingerprints or clothing fibers, linking him to the crimes.

The Superior Court Jury deliberated about four days before finding Clark guilty of the shooting deaths of two women, one a stranger, the other a former friend. They also found him guilty of five special circumstances, including killing a witness, which means he could receive a death sentence.

The same jury will return to court June 24 to consider whether Clark should be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison without opportunity for parole.

Kathy Lee, 49, a Garden Grove secretary, was shot in the head Oct. 18, 1991, as she arrived at a Fountain Valley CompUSA store to pick up her teenage son when he finished work. She had unknowingly interrupted the robbery Clark was later convicted of organizing, and was gunned down.

The second shooting came nearly three years later, on March 13, 1994, after Ardell Love Williams, 19, provided damaging testimony about Clark and the computer store heist.

Williams was later shot in the head at a Gardena industrial park where she allegedly had been lured by Clark's girlfriend on the pretext of a job interview.

During the two-month trial before Judge Jean H. Rheinheimer, prosecutor Richard King presented a maze of evidence he said tied Clark to both crimes.

Although Clark was not accused of pulling the trigger in either killing, he was equally responsible for murder under the law for his roles in planning the crimes, the prosecutor charged.

"He is the one who set it up," King told jurors about the robbery that sparked the fatal chain of events. "He is a major participant. He is Mr. William Clark."

Defense attorney Jack M. Earley contended that key prosecution witnesses were lying about Clark to stay out of trouble, and told jurors the circumstantial evidence against his client didn't prove guilt.

The defense attorney also raised questions of race. Clark was the only African American pictured in a police photo lineup, while the only white suspect in the robbery, Matt Weaver, was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony, Earley said.

Authorities denied that race played any part in the investigation, saying Weaver was given immunity because he was the first to come forward and cooperate.

Jurors considered evidence dating back to 1989, when Clark met Ardell Williams at a computer training seminar. The two became friends and were involved in two thefts together, according to testimony.

The Gardena woman's decision to provide authorities with information against her friend proved a fatal one, King told jurors.

Her testimony included statements that she accompanied Clark to the Fountain Valley store about a month before the attempted heist, and that he indicated the store would be his next target.

The defense contended that Williams was setting up Clark to win favorable treatment from authorities on an unrelated theft case. Clark was upset at her but didn't arrange for her murder, Earley told jurors.

The robbery ended in murder when victim Kathy Lee found herself in the "wrong place at the wrong time," King told jurors.

Lee had parked and was walking toward the building to pick up her son, who worked inside, when she surprised one of the robbers, Nokkuwa "Pretty Boy" Ervin of Los Angeles, and was shot, the prosecutor said.

Employees inside the business, including Lee's son, who was 18 at the time, had been handcuffed and gagged during the robbery but were not injured.

Ervin, along with Eric Clark, the defendant's younger brother, are serving life sentences without parole for the murder.

The prosecutor alleged that Clark, while in jail awaiting trial, recruited his girlfriend, Antoinette Yancey, to befriend Williams and her family and then kill the witness. Yancey is awaiting trial separately on murder charges that also carry a potential death penalty.

Earley accused authorities of playing a "porno card" in using sexually explicit letters between Clark and Yancey to allege a link between his client and the Williams murder. He contended that the letters proved only that Clark and Yancey had a close relationship.

The trial's penalty phase is expected to last a week. The prosecution case is expected to include testimony from relatives of both victims. Earley said he intends to show his client, a former promoter and salesman devastated by a business failure in the 1980s, had no history of violence.

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