November 1, 2006, 6:30 AM PST
Prosecutors and defense attorneys will try to choose six alternate jurors Wednesday for the murder trial of a man accused of orchestrating the slayings of auto racing legend Mickey Thompson and his wife at their Bradbury home more than 18 years ago.
A 12-person jury was sworn in Tuesday. Once the alternates are selected, opening statements will begin in the trial of Michael Goodwin, Mickey Thompson's onetime business partner who has been jailed without bail since his December 2001 arrest in Orange County.
Prosecutors said opening statements could begin as early as tomorrow morning.
Goodwin is charged with two counts of murder, along with the special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and multiple murder, for the March 16, 1988, shooting deaths of the 59-year-old off-road racing legend-turned- promoter and his 41-year-old wife, Trudy.
Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty for the 61-year-old defendant, who faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
In preparation for jury selection, prospective jurors underwent hardship screening to determine which of them would be able to serve on a lengthy trial. Goodwin's trial is expected to last from two to three months.
Goodwin is accused of having the couple killed outside their home in the gated San Gabriel foothills community east of Monrovia after a business dispute stemming from the 1984 merger of their companies was resolved in Thompson's favor. The judgment against the racing and onetime concert promoter amounted to nearly $750,000.
The two killers who gunned down Thompson and his wife in their driveway escaped on 10-speed bicycles and were never identified. Described as black men in their 20s, the gunmen wore dark, hooded jogging suits and hid in some shrubbery until the couple emerged about 6 a.m. to go to work at the Anaheim Stadium offices of Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group.
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.
Goodwin's lawyer, public defender Elena Saris, has argued the prosecution has "no evidence whatsoever" linking her client to the murders, other than the word of several people who claim to have heard him threaten Thompson years ago.
Los Angeles County sheriff's Detective Mark Lillienfeld, the lead investigator on the case since 1997, acknowledged in a recent interview with an LA Weekly writer that he's "had stronger cases, that's for sure." However, he said all the circumstantial evidence he has gathered points to Goodwin.
"Ray Charles or Helen Keller could figure this one out," he told the LA Weekly. "This is not a difficult case."
Pasadena Superior Court Judge Teri Schwartz last year refused to dismiss the case, ruling there was "ample evidence to hold the defendant to answer" to the charges.
Thompson was the first person to break the 400 mph sound barrier at the Bonneville Salt Flats and was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1990.
The full jury has been selected for the Thompson murder trial. Opening statements are slated to begin at 10 a.m. Monday, November 6th.
FYI: this is a very small courtroom and can only accommodate a very few visitors. If you plan to attend, we suggest arriving early to get a seat .