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Drug Dealer Is Convicted in Ventura Clerk's Slaying

Richard Geise, found guilty of first-degree murder, faces a life sentence. It's his second trial in the fatal shooting at the market.

November 21, 2002|Tracy Wilson and Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writers

After six days of deliberation, a Ventura County jury Wednesday found a 33-year-old drug dealer guilty of murder in the fatal shooting of a Ventura Avenue market clerk during a botched robbery last year.

Former Ojai resident Richard John Geise faces life in prison without the possibility of parole after being convicted of first-degree murder and of five lesser charges.

Although the jury returned a guilty verdict on the most serious charge, the panel deadlocked on two counts of attempted murder and one count of commercial burglary.

The verdict puzzled lawyers, who struggled to explain under what theory the jury found Geise responsible for the slaying.

"I think what they decided was he was part of the conspiracy to commit robbery, but was not present at the scene," said Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Don Glynn. "Same result."

Attorney John McNamara, who appeared in court with Geise after trial lawyer Robert Schwartz left town because of a family emergency, declined to speculate on the jurors' reasoning.

"It did seem like some of the verdicts were inconsistent with each other," McNamara said. "There will be a motion for a new trial and an appeal."

After the verdicts were announced in Ventura County Superior Court, jurors and relatives of the defendant and of slain grocery clerk Primitivo Alvarez immediately left the courthouse.

Alvarez's mother, Concepcion Alvarez, left the courtroom in tears while walking with her other son, Omar Alvarez.

The trial was the second for Geise on the same charges.

On April 22, a mistrial was declared on the day of closing arguments when Geise's then-attorney said he could not ethically proceed because he had received evidence showing his client may have caused a witness to lie on the stand.

Geise's new trial began Oct. 31.

According to police, two men wearing gas masks entered the family-owned Central Market in Ventura on April 6, 2001, and ordered clerks to open the store's safe.

Before the employees could comply, the gunmen opened fire, police said. Alvarez, 35, was killed and brothers Balbir and Mohan Singh were injured.

The other suspected gunman in the heist, Alfonso Acosta Delgado Jr., 25, was killed in May 2001 by a Ventura police SWAT team marksman after a five-hour standoff outside his grandmother's house.

Geise, a five-time felon with a lengthy history of drug offenses, had maintained since his arrest that he was with his family at the time of the shooting.

He testified that a few hours after the shooting, Delgado, who was his cousin, and another man, Sam Patterson, visited him at a motel on Seaward Avenue in Ventura.

Geise said the men wanted him to help them make false identification cards, which he did. Geise also testified that the men then told him they had robbed the market earlier in the day.

Patterson died from a drug overdose last year.

Prosecutors argued at both trials that Geise is a habitual liar, who first told police he had gone to Magic Mountain with his family the day of the robbery.

Police reported finding drugs and a computer used to make fake identification cards in Geise's motel room. A .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun was found hidden in the ceiling above a closet. Lab tests revealed the gun was one of two weapons fired during the shooting, prosecutors said.

At trial, defense attorney Schwartz cited testimony from two witnesses who identified another man as the possible killer. During both trials, Geise's estranged wife provided him an alibi.

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