SANTA ANA — A state appellate court has settled several lingering issues in the conviction of surgeon Thomas A. Gionis for hiring thugs eight years ago to attack his former wife, Aissa Wayne, daughter of actor John Wayne.
The appellate court had reversed Gionis' conviction in 1994 on the basis of improper testimony by an attorney and prosecutorial misconduct. But last year, the state Supreme Court tossed out the lower court's ruling. The latest appellate court ruling settles five minor issues from the appeal.
"We're gratified that the court has now finally affirmed the conviction," said Gary W. Schons, senior assistant attorney general. "It's just unfortunate that it has taken this long to reach a conclusion."
Gionis and Wayne were locked in a custody dispute over their daughter, Anastasia, when the attack occurred at the Newport Beach estate of Wayne's friend Roger Luby. Wayne was tied up and thrown face-first onto a garage floor, suffering head injuries. The two attackers pistol-whipped Luby and severed his Achilles tendon with a knife.
Gionis was linked to the attack by a telephone call he made to a private investigator who associated with the two assailants.
Gionis was tried twice for the assault, hiring F. Lee Bailey to represent him in a preliminary hearing before the first trial and prominent New York lawyer Bruce Cutler in the second. The first jury deadlocked, and the second convicted him in 1992 after a family-law lawyer testified about incriminating statements Gionis had made to him more than a year before the attack.
Pomona attorney John Lueck, who knew Gionis and Wayne socially, testified that after Gionis received divorce papers from Wayne in 1987, he remarked that she "had no idea how easy it would be for him to pay somebody to really take care of her."
Those statements were part of the reason for the 1994 appellate court reversal. The court said the testimony violated attorney-client privilege. But the Supreme Court disagreed, ruling Gionis was not covered because the attorney already had refused to represent him at the time of the remarks.
Gionis was sentenced to five years in prison.
In the appellate court's Oct. 10 opinion, Justice Thomas F. Crosby wrote that the attack on Wayne and Luby was "an extraordinarily destructive crime, particularly with respect to Mr. Luby's injuries; and it was, in a sense, a type of urban terrorism meant to intimidate a litigant and influence the placement of a child. What the defendant could not win at the courthouse, he sought to achieve on the streets through intimidation."
The court's ruling dealt with five relatively minor issues, including the admission of an alleged co-conspirator's statements through a witness and alleged failure to inform the jury that one of the witnesses was a possible accomplice.
Gionis' attorney, William J. Kopeny, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.