The Ronald Regan State Building in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by John Schreiber.
The Ronald Regan State Building in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by John Schreiber.

A state appeals court panel on Monday upheld a man’s conviction for the 1988 murders of auto racing legend Mickey Thompson and his wife, who were gunned down in the driveway of their Bradbury-area home.

Michael Goodwin was convicted in 2007, with prosecutors saying he ordered the killings over a failed business deal.

Thompson, 59, and his wife, Trudy, were gunned down around 6 a.m. March 16, 1988, 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.

Goodwin was convicted in January 2007 of two counts of first-degree murder, along with 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.

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 his appeal, attorneys for Goodwin alleged a series of errors by prosecutors and the judge who presided over the trial. His attorneys also challenged eyewitness testimony that placed him in Thompson’s neighborhood a few days before the killings, sitting in a car with a pair of binoculars. They also contended that such an identification did not prove any link with the killers.

“The evidence against Mr. Goodwin is so weak,” his appellate attorney, Gail Harper, told the three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal in October.

She said 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, however, 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 said.

It its ruling, the appeals 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. “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.

“Defendant 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. These facts were placed in evidence, and the jury could properly infer from them that defendant agreed with the shooters to commit the murders.”

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.

City News Service

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