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Trial Begins in 1989 Slaying of Club Owner

Court: Prosecutors say the victim's partner hired a hit man. The defense accuses his bodyguard.

August 23, 2001|STUART PFEIFER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They were the odd couple of the strip club world--the brawny enforcer who ruled with his fists and the brainy executive, nearly a foot shorter, who handled the books.

Horace McKenna and Michael Woods ran a chain of Los Angeles County strip clubs for more than a decade, until one night in 1989, when their partnership ended with machine-gun fire.

On Wednesday, an Orange County prosecutor told a jury that Woods turned against his longtime partner, paying his bodyguard to kill the man most people called "Big Mac." That bodyguard, David Amos, is expected to be the prosecution's star witness against Woods.

Woods' lawyers presented a sharply different version as the trial opened in Santa Ana. They contend that Amos is the one who wanted McKenna dead, that he hatched the idea and paid a hit man to commit the crime.

"The responsibility, the plan and the scheme to kill Horace McKenna rests squarely upon the shoulders of one person, David Amos," said Woods' lawyer, Vicki Podberesky.

McKenna was arriving at his Brea hillside estate in a limousine March 9, 1989, when a gunman emerged from the darkness and shot him repeatedly with an Uzi.

The crime went unsolved for more than a decade until January 2000, when a longtime police informant told investigators that he committed the crime--at the request of Woods and Amos.

After a lengthy undercover investigation, authorities arrested Woods, Amos and admitted hit man John Sheridan last October. At one point in the investigation, Amos wore a recording device while discussing the crime with Woods, the prosecutor said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Bruce Moore said Woods paid Amos $50,000 and a 40% stake in three strip clubs to kill McKenna, a 300-pound bodybuilder. Amos in turn paid $25,000 to Sheridan, who committed the killing.

After the killing, Amos stepped into McKenna's role, helping Woods run the clubs.

Amos and Woods also went into the movie business, producing two action movies with striking similarities to the McKenna case. In one, "Flipping," one gangster works secretly for the police, gathering information for prosecutors, just as Amos did years later in real life.

Both Amos and Sheridan have cooperated and have agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter and receive 20-year prison sentences.

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