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Guilty verdict in Thompson murder case

Former business partner Michael Goodwin faces life without parole in the deaths of the racing legend and his wife.

January 05, 2007|John Spano and Tami Abdollah | Times Staff Writers

Collene Campbell arrived in court Thursday wearing the St. Christopher medal her brother, slain racing legend Mickey Thompson, wore during his races. It lay over a diamond necklace her mother gave her on her deathbed 11 years ago, asking Campbell not to take it off until her brother's killer was brought to justice.

On Thursday, after nearly 19 years, 74-year-old Campbell was released from those mystic bonds.

A Pasadena jury convicted Michael Goodwin of murdering his former racing-promoter partner and Thompson's wife, Trudy, in 1988, thus writing the climactic chapter in one of Los Angeles County's most enduring murder mysteries.

"I wish I could look up and touch Mickey and Trudy and say, 'We won!' " Campbell said after the verdict, her eyes welling with tears. Later she waved a black-and-white checkered racing flag in triumph.

Campbell, a former mayor of San Juan Capistrano, fought tirelessly on behalf of her brother, who was killed a few years after her son -- whose body was thrown from an airplane in an unrelated case.

In the Thompson case, after almost two decades of police investigation and 10 shows about the crime on national television, jurors said no one believed that Goodwin -- inventor of Supercross, motorcycle races staged in NFL stadiums -- was innocent. They said they never considered that they would not reach a unanimous verdict, and the fact that Goodwin did not testify did not matter.

"All I could say to her [Campbell] was, 'I'm glad you're pleased,' " said the jury foreman, who asked not to be identified by name. "We didn't do it just for her, but because we wanted to do the right thing. We all hope this will bring an end to a long, painful period in her life."

Goodwin, who has been in custody five years, is to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His lawyer, deputy Public Defender Elena Saris, said she planned to appeal and would ask for a new trial.

Pleading for her client, she argued during trial that Goodwin might have been a "jerk," an "egomaniac" and a "braggart" but was not a murderer.

The Thompsons were gunned down in the driveway of their home in the eastern Los Angeles County community of Bradbury on March 16, 1988, by two hooded gunmen who escaped on bicycles. The killers were never identified or charged, and there was no crime scene evidence connecting Goodwin to the slayings.

But prosecutor Alan Jackson argued that the state of Thompson's home, with thousands of dollars and expensive jewelry untouched, showed the motive to be vengeance and that Goodwin, left bankrupt by a dispute with Thompson, was the only person with a hatred strong enough to plan the carnage.

Thompson, the first American to reach 400 mph in a piston-driven vehicle, was one of off-road racing's earliest promoters. He and Goodwin joined briefly to promote motor sports in Southern California but had a falling out; Thompson won a $514,000 judgment against Goodwin that was pending at the time the couple were killed. It has not been paid. Goodwin declared personal and business bankruptcies as a result of the judgment.

Prosecutors said Thompson was shot repeatedly but was kept alive and forced to watch the murder of his wife before he too was shot in the head.

Jackson overcame significant legal obstacles in prosecuting the case, including the fact that some witnesses came forward years after the slayings.

Campbell played a central role in the long investigation, hiring private investigators, offering a $1-million reward, prodding police and prosecutors and becoming a national crusader for victims' rights.

"She's just like her brother," said her husband, Gary, with whom she attended the trial before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Teri Schwartz.

"She never quits; she never gives in," Gary Campbell said.

He said the long investigation pulled the couple from optimism to desperation. Goodwin was the prime suspect from the beginning, but for years there was not enough evidence to charge him. As the murder inquiry continued through several sets of investigators, a federal court in another case convicted Goodwin of bank fraud in 1995, but he was released from prison two years later.

The Thompsons' slayings fascinated many in the media and were the repeat subject of television shows such as "America's Most Wanted." Gradually, more witnesses appeared, many of them saying their memories had been jogged by the shows.

Eventually, 15 people testified that they had heard Goodwin threaten Thompson's life or those of Thompson's associates. Five years ago, prosecutors in Orange County -- where much of the Thompson-Goodwin business rivalry played out -- charged Goodwin with murder. But the Campbells were devastated when an appeals court threw out those charges three years ago, ruling that there was no evidence Goodwin had planned the crime there.

The same day, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley filed new murder charges against Goodwin.

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