Jury deliberations began Tuesday in the trial of an alleged contract killer accused in the slaying of a Coachella Valley man in 1992.
Russell Huber, 59, of Oroville could face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of first-degree murder with a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait for the death of 41-year-old Clyde Gregory Hayward.
Following nearly a month of testimony, the prosecution and defense made their closing statements Tuesday, after which Riverside County Superior Court Judge Bernard Schwartz sent the jury behind closed doors to begin weighing Huber’s fate.
Deliberations are slated to resume Wednesday morning at the Riverside Hall of Justice. The defendant is being held in lieu of $1 million bail at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside.
Hayward went missing in July 1992. His pickup truck was found about two weeks later on Highway 95, 26 miles north of Blythe, with dried blood and two .380 shell casings found about 100 yards east of the vehicle, according to court documents.
Hayward’s girlfriend, whose name was not disclosed, told detectives at the time she had turned down a marriage proposal from her employer, John Nichols, and believed he was behind her boyfriend’s disappearance, but there was no concrete evidence.
The prosecution alleges that after being rejected by the victim’s girlfriend, Nichols arranged a fake business meeting with him under the guise of securing golf carts for a development project.
Hayward allegedly met with Huber and Peter Boncore, a longtime associate of the defendant, as part of that arrangement and was killed.
Huber told investigators he and Boncore were in the desert, where they “had a meeting with a guy about golf carts on behalf of Nichols,” according to the prosecution’s brief.
Huber said they sat down at a diner and later went to Hayward’s house, but the victim was “alive and well” when the meeting ended.
Huber speculated during interviews with detectives that his DNA got into Hayward’s pickup because he drove the truck from the diner to Hayward’s house.
The victim’s remains were found in a streambed in Clark County, Nevada, in February 1993, but weren’t positively identified until May 20, 2014.
Following the identification, DNA analysis was conducted on several discarded cigarette butts found near the victim’s abandoned truck. DNA and fingerprint evidence allegedly linked the cigarettes to Huber.
According to the prosecution, Nichols — who died in 2001 — hired Boncore to carry out the killing, and he, in turn, recruited Huber. Boncore and Nichols met in prison in the 1980s.
Nichols, known as “Octopus,” had previous ties to murders-for-hire, including a still-unsolved 1981 triple killing involving Cabazon Band of Mission Indians Tribal Leader Fred Alvarez, shot to death at his Rancho Mirage home, along with friends Ralph Boger and Patricia Castro, according to the prosecution.
At the time, Nichols was the tribe’s financial manager and was suspected of silencing Alvarez to prevent him from exposing Nichols’ alleged illegal activities — rumored to include the establishment of a weapons testing site on the reservation.
Nichols was never officially tied to the murders but was sentenced to four years in prison for solicitation of murder in an unrelated case and sometime thereafter met Boncore.
Jimmy “James” Hughes, a security-official-turned-preacher, was charged in 2009 with the Rancho Mirage triple-murder, but prosecutors dropped the charges the following year, citing insufficient evidence.
–City News Service