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Dana Parsons ORANGE COUNTY

Goodwin still toughing it out

January 13, 2007|Dana Parsons

The one time I talked to Mike Goodwin face to face, he was loaded for bear. It was September 2001 and he was feeling the heat from the heat, knowing that he was still a prime target in the aging murder investigation of famed auto racer Mickey Thompson and wife Trudy.

Goodwin told me that if it took a trial to prove his innocence, so be it. He was no cupcake, and the stories of what a tough guy he'd been back in the day when he and Thompson had been business partners were easy to link to the man across the table from me in his lawyer's office.

Three months later, in December 2001, Goodwin would be arrested at his Dana Point home. He hasn't spent a full day out of jail since, and over the years we've had a number of phone conversations in which, for the most part, he repeated his eagerness to clear his name in a trial.

Nine days ago, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury convicted him of arranging the double murders in March 1988. Now 61, he's expected to be sentenced to life in prison.

Earlier this week, Goodwin phoned me from L.A. County Jail and, true to form, said he was ready to dive into the appeals process.

Two days later, I talked to the jury foreman, who said the deliberations never broke down into two camps. The only lingering questions after the first vote was taken involved technical issues on the threshold of proof.

In short, the jury didn't agonize over Goodwin's guilt. That surprised me when you consider that:

* The L.A. County district attorney's office passed on the case for years.

* The Orange County district attorney's office built a threadbare rationale for filing murder charges, only to have an appeals court toss it out on the grounds that Orange County didn't have jurisdiction for murders that occurred in L.A. County. Only then, in 2004, did L.A. finally file charges.

* The case was circumstantial and involved memories of events now nearly two decades old. The two killers have never been identified, much less found.

I asked the jury foreman, 52-year-old music composer Mark Matthews, about all that. He said the jury focused only on the evidence and that he was surprised later to hear through the grapevine that many observers thought the outcome would be a hung jury or an acquittal.

"The bottom line is that when we came to a verdict, it wasn't that complex," Matthews said. Still, he said, "There was no magic moment when everyone went, 'Oh my God, that's it, this is the one thing.' "

Rather, he said, it was a progression that began with the rancorous Thompson-Goodwin business relationship, and then to the alleged Goodwin threats and the subsequent murders, and then to behavior by Goodwin after the murders that Matthews thought showed "a lack of moral compass that you and I might have."

Jurors put no stock in the defense theory that the Thompsons were killed during a robbery attempt. Nor, however, did jurors necessarily accept the prosecution's contention that Goodwin's hatred was so deep that he ordered the shooters to make sure Mickey saw Trudy die.

By the jurors' count, 15 people testified about threats, Matthews said.

The four man-eight woman jury determined that nine were credible and believed that Goodwin genuinely hated Thompson.

"It might be more complex than just hatred, but it was the root cause for sure," Matthews said.

Since the trial, Matthews said, he's read news stories about potential other "enemies" of Mickey Thompson or other suspects no longer under consideration. I ask if it would have mattered.

"Whether that would have made a difference, who knows?" Matthews said. "I understand the question, I really do, it's a very interesting one. But it's more complex than saying, 'If we had known this, would it have been different?' Maybe yes, maybe no."

Matthews said he has no doubt the jury got the right man.

From a jail phone, Goodwin says he isn't giving up. "Everyone seems incredulous that I'm as up as I am. I'm not really up. I'm just saying, 'Why get down?' There's nothing I can really do about it."

He thinks there are appeal issues. He says he was surprised by the verdicts. He thinks his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Elena Saris, did a great job.

I ask about Mickey Thompson's sister, Collene Campbell, who, largely through her Orange County political connections, probably is most responsible for keeping the case alive through the years.

"This is real strange and I mean it from the bottom of my heart," Goodwin says. "I'm really glad she's happy for something. I don't believe she thinks I really did it, but she was able to put on a good show that I did it."

Does he hate her?

"I don't hate Collene, I pray for her every day. Nobody can believe that, but I do. I probably should hate her, but I don't. I'm certainly unhappy she ruined my life, so to speak." The irony, he says, is that, "it wasn't Mickey who ruined my life ... it was Collene."

He then tells me of his born-again Christian conversion of 10 years ago. He has a friend send me a detailed version of how it happened and how it has affected his life.

I can't read another man's heart, but it does remind me that the chief investigator in the case once told me Goodwin is a master manipulator who thinks he can con everyone.

It doesn't matter if I believe him or not.

But with life in prison a likely outcome for him, his profession of faith makes me ponder two compelling sides of that coin:

If he arranged the murders, wouldn't a genuine conversion force him to confess his most egregious sins?

Or, if he has been wrongly convicted, can he dig deep enough into the recesses of that faith and find the peace of mind to live out a life behind bars?

Dana Parsons' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana

.parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.

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