A state appeals court panel Wednesday rejected a bid for re-sentencing by a man serving a life prison term without the possibility of parole for the 1988 murders of auto racing legend Mickey Thompson and his wife, who were gunned down in the driveway of their Bradbury home.
The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that the trial court did not err in concluding that Michael Goodwin could not establish eligibility for re-sentencing under a recent change in state law.
Goodwin — who prosecutors say ordered the March 16, 1988, killings of Thompson and his wife, Trudy, over a failed business deal — was convicted in January 2007 of two counts of first-degree murder. Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and multiple murders.
He was sentenced in March 2007 to two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole.
Goodwin filed a petition in which he alleged that he could no longer be convicted of first-degree murder as a result of the change in state law, and contended that the trial court had erred in denying his petition for re-sentencing without first appointing him an attorney and allowing an evidentiary hearing.
“He was prosecuted as a co-conspirator or direct aider and abettor in a murder-for-hire scheme and could be prosecuted under those same theories under the amended murder statutes,” according to the appellate court panel’s five-page ruling.
Thompson and his wife were gunned down in the driveway of their home in the gated San Gabriel foothills community as they headed to work at the Anaheim Stadium offices of Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group.
The killers, described by witnesses as a pair of men in their 20s, escaped on 10-speed bicycles and were never caught.
Prosecutors alleged that Goodwin ordered the killings after a business dispute stemming from the 1984 merger of their companies was resolved in Thompson’s favor. The judgment against Goodwin amounted to nearly $750,000.
In a previous ruling in January 2015, a state appellate court panel agreed with the trial judge’s assessment that while the case was based on circumstantial evidence, “the circumstantial evidence was overwhelming.”
“Here, the circumstances fully justified the inference that (Goodwin) conspired with the shooters,” the appeals panel ruled in 2015. “While defendant tells us what evidence was absent — such as evidence of payments to the shooters, telephone records, witnesses to defendant’s solicitation of the murders, meetings or talks with the shooters — he ignores the evidence that was adduced.
“The Thompsons were killed in a carefully planned operation for which there was no robbery or other motive,” according to the ruling. “Defendant was present in the neighborhood with binoculars and another person a few days before the murders. The shooters knew where and when to find the Thompsons, how to get to their house and how best to escape the scene.”
Goodwin “repeatedly threatened to kill Mickey Thompson and hurt his family and indeed made statements to two witnesses about the cost involved in having Mr. Thompson killed, and told others he was too smart to get caught,” according to the ruling. “These facts were placed in evidence, and the jury could properly infer from them that defendant agreed with the shooters to commit the murders.”
Gail Harper, an appellate attorney who represented Goodwin, told an appellate court panel in October 2014 that there was no direct evidence of any relationship between Goodwin and the perpetrators, saying that authorities ignored evidence that potentially implicated others in the killings and that Goodwin was “not the only person in the world who knew where Thompson and his wife lived.”
Harper acknowledged that her client was an “angry man” who was “known for his loudness and over-the-top statements,” but said that “being a jerk isn’t a crime.”
“You have to overcome the distaste for Mr. Goodwin, who is thoroughly distasteful,” she told the panel.
Deputy Attorney General Louis Karlin countered that “the motive is shown very strongly by the nature of the threats” against Thompson by Goodwin.
“Only one person has that motive,” the deputy attorney general told the appellate court panel during the 2014 hearing.
Goodwin, who was long considered a prime suspect in the murders, was arrested in 2001 in Orange County.
The case against Goodwin was originally brought by prosecutors in Santa Ana, who had argued that the murders were planned in Orange County, where Goodwin lived. However, an appellate court panel found that Orange County lacked jurisdiction to prosecute, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office filed its case against Goodwin in June 2004.
Thompson set four international speed records in 1959 and went on to set more than 100 international or national speed marks through 1962, according to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, which posthumously inducted him in 1990.