A 43-year-old appliance thief who allowed a stove stolen in Menifree to topple off his truck on an Anaheim freeway, triggering a collision that killed an off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, was sentenced Tuesday to time already served in custody after his conviction was reduced from murder to manslaughter.
Cole Wilkins, who was released from custody on Friday, had been serving a 16-year-to-life term for a second-degree murder conviction when a three-justice panel of the state’s 4th District Court of Appeal reduced his conviction to involuntary manslaughter in January.
The state Attorney General’s Office declined to appeal the ruling, clearing the way for Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett to sentence Wilkins to four years in prison. Wilkins has credit for 9,974 days served behind bars, so the excess time will be applied toward parole, according to court records.
According to his attorney, Sara Ross, Wilkins could move in with his mother in Prescott, Arizona, but he “also has multiple other family members and friends in Orange County who are willing to provide support, including housing and employment.”
Ross said in court papers that her client “has not shown any violent tendency during more than 13 years of incarceration. He has shown remorse for the accidental death he caused. He wants to return to his family and begin work and to make up for lost time. He is determined to maintain a law-abiding life and stay out of prison.”
Wilkins was originally charged and convicted of first-degree murder, and was sentenced in July 2008 to 26 years to life in prison. His conviction and sentence were later overturned by the state Supreme Court, and then-Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals, who is now an appellate justice, ruled in 2017 that prosecutors could only pursue second-degree murder due to misconduct in the case and could not tell jurors the victim was an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, unlike in Wilkins’ previous trial.
Wilkins argued in the most recent appeal that Goethals erred by denying the defendant’s pretrial efforts to recuse the entire Orange County District Attorney’s Office and to dismiss the charges due to outrageous governmental misconduct.
The appellate justices disagreed with Wilkins on the outrageous governmental misconduct remedies, but agreed with the defendant that there was not enough evidence to prove second-degree murder.
Wilkins alleged outrageous governmental misconduct because he said California Highway Patrol investigators failed to disclose to defense attorneys that there was a dispute about the cause of the crash and that one report was destroyed.
His attorney argued that jurors should have been allowed to consider involuntary manslaughter. Ross said Goethals rejected a motion for a new trial based on defense arguments that Wilkins’ crimes did not meet the legal standard for an implied malice killing and that he should have been convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
Wilkins stole several appliances from an under-construction Menifee home on July 7, 2006, and was driving away with them about 5 a.m. when a stove fell onto the Riverside (91) Freeway, leading to the crash that killed Deputy David Piquette.
Wilkins failed to tie down the appliances, which filled the Ford F250 truck’s cab, and left the tailgate down.
One motorist, Dan Lay, who saw the stove tumble off the truck, swerved out of the way and followed Wilkins, flashing his lights and honking his horn to get Wilkins’ attention, Associate Justice Eileen Moore wrote in her January ruling.
“After about two miles, Wilkins slowed down and began to pull over, but then he accelerated again,” Moore wrote.
Wilkins eventually drove off the freeway and at the top of the off- ramp, Lay hollered to Wilkins that he needed to pull over. That prompted Wilkins to say, “I will pull over, but I am going to (expletive) you up,”’ Moore wrote.
When Wilkins stopped in a parking lot, Lay told him about the stove. Wilkins responded, “Oh my God. That was an (expletive) thousand-dollar stove,” according to Moore.