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City Electrician Found Guilty in 4 Killings

Violence: Willie Woods methodically shot his supervisors at work in 1995 after he received a poor performance evaluation.

November 06, 1996|EDWARD J. BOYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former Los Angeles city electrician faces the death penalty after being convicted Tuesday of killing four of his supervisors at the city's downtown technical center.

Willie Woods, 44, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 1995 deaths of three of his victims and second-degree murder in the shooting of the fourth.

Relatives, friends and co-workers of the four men Woods killed filled nearly two rows of courtroom seats Tuesday when the Los Angeles Superior Court jury returned from four days of deliberations.

Before the verdicts were announced, Judge Edward A. Ferns cautioned spectators against making any sounds. The families obeyed, but their eyes did not remain dry.

Lydia Gain, whose husband Anthony J. Gain, 78, was felled by Woods' bullets, tightly clenched her lips and squeezed her eyes shut. But the tears streamed down her cheeks, becoming more profuse as each guilty verdict was announced.

Two of her sons by a previous marriage, John and Nick Zamora, sat behind her, their hands on her shoulders. Both men also wept openly.

Woods, who wore a blue business suit to court, showed no visible reaction to the verdicts. He chatted with a member of his defense team before and after the jury's decisions were announced.

According to investigators, Woods feared that he might be fired and was angry over a poor performance evaluation when he hunted down and shot the supervisors on July 19, 1995, at the technical center, commonly called "Piper Tech."

Woods went on his bloody rampage shortly after 10 a.m. as hundreds of city workers went in and out of the sprawling facility on Ramirez Street, next to the Los Angeles River, to pick up their paychecks.

After entering the center, police said, Woods went to the communications area, where he worked as a radio repairman. He had an angry discussion there with someone about his performance evaluation and left, returning shortly with a Glock semiautomatic pistol, police said.

He then methodically searched out his victims: Gain; Marty Wakefield, 57; Neil Carpenter, 61; and James Walton, 60. All of the men were veteran city employees. Carpenter and Walton had given Woods the poor evaluation. Gain, the city's most senior employee, with 53 years of service, was the office supervisor.

Gain and Wakefield were shot in their office cubicles, police said. Woods then descended a flight of stairs, where he encountered Carpenter and Walton in a corridor and an office, investigators said.

Police officers who were in Piper Tech to have work done on keys to their patrol car heard the shots and tracked Woods to an open area where he dropped his weapon and surrendered without incident.

Robert Sipe, an official of Woods' union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 45, said before the trial that Woods felt he was being picked on and singled out at work.

"It seemed he was on the brink of violent action," Sipe said.

The jury of six men and six women found Woods guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of Gain, Carpenter and Walton. He was convicted of second-degree murder in Wakefield's death.

The jury also found the special circumstances of multiple murder to be true, making Woods subject to the death penalty.

Ferns scheduled the penalty phase of Woods' trial to begin Nov. 12. Woods can only receive one of two sentences: death, or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Because the penalty phase of the trial is pending, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said it would be inappropriate to comment on Tuesday's verdicts.

Relatives and friends complied with a request from the judge and also declined to comment.

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