A man who arranged from behind bars for the 2012 murder of a witness against him in a robbery case was sentenced Friday to death.
“The evidence of defendant Michael Thomas’ participation in the plot to murder Erik Poltorak and the earlier robbery of Poltorak in his home was compelling. Surreptitiously recorded statements by defendant Thomas and his co-conspirators left no doubt that the defendant orchestrated, arranged for and approved the killing of Poltorak to keep him from testifying against him at the preliminary hearing for the robbery case,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry said in denying an automatic motion to reduce the jury’s Sept. 14 recommendation of a death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Poltorak in 2012 was described by LA Weekly as “executive vice president at a sex-clothing company called Roleplayfashion.”
The judge said the evidence against the 50-year-old defendant in the robbery case was “equally strong and included his fingerprint on the document he used to convince Poltorak to open the door to his home” to his home in Beverly Grove on Aug. 13, 2011.
“The court is well aware that defendant Thomas did not personally kill Poltorak, but he was a major participant and directed the plot to murder Poltorak,” the judge said. “Had it not been for defendant Thomas’ insistence that Poltorak be killed, Poltorak would likely still be alive today.”
The judge also rejected the defense’s motion for a new trial for Thomas, who was found guilty Sept. 8 of first-degree murder for orchestrating the murder of Poltorak, 42, who was shot to death Nov. 1, 2012, on his doorstep.
Jurors found true the special circumstance allegations of murder of a witness and murder by means of lying in wait, and convicted Thomas of second- degree robbery, false imprisonment by violence, burglary and possession of a firearm by a felon in connection with the August 2011 attack on Poltorak.
The gunman, Allen Williams, who was 23 at the time of the crime and had no prior criminal record. He is serving life without parole.
Yvonne Keith, 49 years old at the time of the murder, pressured the other two into committing the killing. She is also serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Thomas’s niece, Jessicha Thomas, was 20 years old at the time and also had no criminal record. She testified against Thomas in exchange for her plea to second-degree murder.
At the start of the trial’s penalty phase, Thomas asked his attorneys not to defend him against the death penalty.
“I don’t care for anyone to know about my life … to go into detail about my upbringing, my family,” Thomas, who spent time in juvenile detention, told the judge. The defendant asked that he be excused from court during the penalty phase, and the judge allowed him to be taken back to jail over the objection of prosecutors.
Deputy District Attorney Bobby Zoumberakis told jurors that Thomas manipulated his three co-defendants to carry out Poltorak’s killing and had a long history of criminal and violent acts, including threats to Culver City police officers, a stabbing and using a shank in jail.
One of Thomas’ attorneys, James Cooper, told the judge that Thomas wanted to be excused from the courtroom as the victim’s older brother got up to give a victim impact statement.
Over Deputy District Attorney Candice Henry’s objection, the judge agreed that Thomas could leave the courtroom, but the defendant remained in court after the victim’s brother said he had decided not to speak.
Outside court, another of Thomas’ lawyers, Joel C. Koury, said the defense had been precluded from presenting its case based on his client’s request that no mitigating evidence be presented.
“This is a fundamental constitutional error,” he said. “(My client) is despondent in the sense accepting the fact that he’s going to spend the rest of his life in prison,” Koury said outside court. “No lawyer is required to assist a client commit what is essentially judicial suicide.”
— Wire and staff reports