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Mistrial Declared in Williams Double-Murder Case

Court: Jurors split over convicting man charged with killing two people who were to be witnesses in a burglary trial.

May 30, 2001|CAITLIN LIU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After more than a week of deliberations, a downtown jury deadlocked Tuesday over the guilt of double-murder defendant Randall Williams, who was accused of killing two witnesses.

The vote was 9 to 3 for conviction, and Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Terry A. Green declared a mistrial.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Jessica Dabney said in court Tuesday that she would retry Williams. Prosecutors added that they would decide in the next two weeks whether they would continue to seek the death penalty.

Williams' mistrial Tuesday capped a trial that included unusual events, among them a public rebuke for Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Duarte for failing to disclose evidence, and the abrupt decision by prosecutors to drop their bid for capital punishment against co-defendant Kenneth Leighton, who was convicted last week of first-degree murder in the slayings of Jamie Navaroli and April Mahoney.

Using cutting-edge courtroom techniques, Green also halted jury deliberations at one point to direct attorneys to reargue parts of the case, after the Williams jury raised questions.

Michael Gottlieb, deputy public defender for Williams, said Tuesday he had no idea why prosecutors decided to spare Leighton a possible death penalty. Prosecutors, however, have remained silent so far about Williams' maximum penalty. "I think it's improper to go against one, but not the other," Gottlieb said.

Navaroli and Mahoney were found shot, execution-style, in November 1998 in West Hills. Prosecutors argued that Leighton commissioned the killings because Navaroli and Mahoney were about to testify against him in a separate burglary case. Before Mahoney died, she allegedly told her mother, sister and police--while in the hospital on life support--that "Randy" had shot her, and she also allegedly picked Williams' picture out of a lineup of photographs.

But Gottlieb argued that Mahoney's dying declaration was unreliable because she had a tube down her throat. He also questioned the credibility of LAPD detectives. Jurors in Leighton's case said they believed Mahoney's dying declaration, but jurors in Williams' trial seemed less certain.

Last Wednesday, Williams' jury told Green they had unresolved questions over Mahoney's statements and might deadlock. The jury also questioned "the believability" of an LAPD detective and wanted to know why some officers' testimony seemed inconsistent.

Laurie Levenson, a professor of criminal law at Loyola Law School, said that inconsistent jury verdicts against co-defendants are not that unusual.

"That's what makes the jury system what it is--different people see different things," Levenson said.

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