The California Supreme Court today affirmed a death sentence for a onetime police officer convicted in the murder-for-hire of a Brentwood couple, though a dissenting justice argued that the conviction amounted to double jeopardy.
Steven Homick — one of six people arrested in connection with the murders of Vera and Gerald Woodman in 1985 — was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit murder and two counts of first-degree murder, and jurors found true special circumstance allegations of murder for financial gain, lying in wait and multiple murders.
The Woodmans were fatally shot in their Mercedes-Benz in the gated underground parking area of their Brentwood condominium building on Sept. 25, 1985. They were coming home after a Yom Kippur break-the-fast dinner.
Prosecutors said the couple's two sons, Neil and Stewart Woodman, hired Homick, a former Los Angeles police officer, and his brother Robert to kill their parents. The Homicks, in turn, hired two men to assist in the murder.
Steven Homick was the only defendant sentenced to death in the case. His brother was convicted of two counts of murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Stewart Woodman testified against the others in exchange for avoiding the death penalty, and a mistrial was declared in his brother's case.
The Woodmans owned a family business and their two older sons filed multiple lawsuits in bitter disputes with their parents and youngest brother Gerald. They eventually took control of the business, firing their father and sibling. Their hatred of their parents was well documented by employees and business associates.
Neil and Stewart Woodman met Steven Homick in Las Vegas around 1980 through a gambling buddy. According to court documents, Homick told the men that it would cost them about $40,000 to $50,000 to have their parents murdered.
The appeal by Steven Homick's lawyers argued that his January 1991 federal conviction for interstate murder for hire in the Woodman case, for which he was sentenced to life in prison, should have barred the October 1991 murder convictions in California, because of state protections against double jeopardy.
"Prosecution and conviction for the same act by both state and federal governments are not barred by the Fifth Amendment guarantee against double jeopardy,'' though California law provides additional protections, the court's majority opinion noted.
The high court found that additional state protection did not apply because the state's prosecution included a special allegation of lying-in-wait, an act not considered in the federal case.
"A conviction in this state is not barred where the offense committed is not the same act but involves an element not present in the prior prosecution,'' according to the majority opinion penned by Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Joyce L. Kennard argued that the California case should have been dismissed.
"The majority is wrong. The California prosecution's allegation of a lying-in-wait special circumstance ... did not somehow transform each murder count into some different crime,'' she wrote.
"Steven Homick's lawyers also challenged other elements of the California trial, arguing that hearsay evidence was admitted and that the defendant should have been able to be tried alone rather than with his two co-defendants.
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