After deliberating only a few hours, an Orange County jury Monday convicted a Long Beach man of murder in the death of a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who was killed in a traffic collision after swerving out of the path of a stove -- allegedly stolen from a construction site -- that tumbled out of the man's pickup.
Cole Allen Wilkins faces from 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced for causing the accident on the 91 Freeway that killed David Piquette as he drove to work from his home in Corona.
Wilkins' attorney, Joseph Vodney, maintained that the case against his client was highly unfair because he never planned or intended to harm Piquette.
"Obviously, I'm extremely disappointed," Vodney said. "He did not commit murder. He had no idea the stove was going to fall off, and he had no intention to hurt anyone. To convict him of first-degree murder . . . is outrageous."
Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Murray could not be reached for comment. His office has maintained that the murder charge was appropriate because Wilkins was allegedly in the process of committing a felony -- the burglary of the stove and other appliances -- when Piquette was killed.
On July 7, 2006, Wilkins, 31, was driving a Ford F-250 loaded with appliances that he'd allegedly stolen from a home construction site in Riverside County. Piquette, 34, a father of twins and a 10-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, was on his way to work about 5 a.m.
According to motorists who witnessed the incident, the tailgate on Wilkins' truck was down when a stove fell out of the bed as he drove west in the fast lane of the 91 Freeway in Anaheim.
At least two drivers traveling ahead of Piquette hit the stove but were unhurt. As other drivers including Piquette swerved to avoid the appliance, a cement truck landed on top of Piquette's county-issued Crown Victoria, crushing him.
According to prosecutors, Wilkins did not stop until a motorist who was driving behind him when the stove fell off flashed his lights and honked his horn.
Wilkins gave the man a phony name and two false telephone numbers and did not produce a driver's license or registration for the truck, prosecutors said. Wilkins also threatened the man and later gave a false name to California Highway Patrol officers trying to reconstruct the accident, authorities said.
Whether the stove was stolen was a disputed point of the trial.
Vodney said Wilkins called a friend about five hours before the crash, telling her he had bought the appliances.
But Murray told jurors that Wilkins had stolen the items after he saw them delivered to a home in a neighborhood where he had been working for his uncle, who owns a drywall installation business. According to Murray, Wilkins intended to use the appliances at a home that he and the friend had planned to build in Palm Springs.
Wilkins is scheduled to be sentenced July 11.