By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
With this tentative identification, Lillienfeld arrested Goodwin, who at the time was living in a house trailer with his elderly father in Dana Point, and put him in a police lineup, where both Stevens and his wife agreed that Goodwin was the man they’d seen in front of their house 13 years previously.
By December 2001, Lillienfeld believed he had enough evidence to arrest Goodwin on two counts of murder in the first degree, a development Collene Campbell’s family and friends celebrated with Mumm champagne and a toast.
In preparation for the preliminary hearing, the prosecution handed over some 40,000 pages of discovery in 114 boxes to Goodwin’s attorneys. Thanks to Goodwin’s being confined at the time to a 3-by-7-foot cell 23 and a half hours a day, he had plenty of time to pore over the documents uninterrupted. And what Goodwin discovered was that the evidence allegedly tying his gun to the murders was seriously mistaken.
Investigators had long ago established that the gun used to kill the Thompsons had six lands and grooves (the rifling machined into the barrels to make the bullets spin). But, as the FBI ballistics handbook clearly showed, 9 mm Smith & Wesson Model 469s like Goodwin’s had five lands and grooves. In short, pointed out Goodwin, by the Sheriff Department’s own analysis there was no way his gun could be the murder weapon.
When confronted with the evidence, the prosecution wrote a letter to the court noting, “Forensic evidence appears to exclude an inference that either of the murder weapons was the 9 mm Smith and Wesson purchased by the defendant in the charged case.”
At the time, Lillienfeld said he’d erred about the gun misidentification, and he was taking full responsibility, but it was also, he insisted, an “honest mistake.”
John Bradley, who began calling Lillienfeld “Mr. Ballistics” after that, ridiculed the notion that such an experienced detective could have made such an obvious mistake. And that false testimony regarding Goodwin’s gun, along with a highly dubious 13-year-old eyewitness identification that no one had ever even thought to mention to the cops before, irreparably harmed Goodwin’s life. Without the mistaken gun evidence, no judge, said Bradley, would have issued an arrest warrant to put Goodwin in a lineup in the first place. Without the lineup, Stevens would never have had the opportunity to (mis)identify Goodwin as the man he’d seen in front of his house 13 years previous. Without Stevens’ eyewitness identification, no judge would have ordered him held without bail for nearly five years, and he wouldn’t be awaiting trial for murder in Los Angeles County today.
The supposed identification of Goodwin in the badly oxidized Malibu station wagon, defense attorney Elena Saris later argued in a 2004 preliminary hearing, simply made no sense. The car was parked on the wrong side of the street, facing away from the Thompsons’ house, which wasn’t visible from that location anyway — it was three-quarters of a mile away, with a hill in between. “You couldn’t see them both simultaneously from a helicopter,” Saris later said. As for the two men in the car, given that they were looking though binoculars in the direction of a grammar school, they were far more likely pedophiles than someone casing Goodwin’s house.
Saris also tried at the preliminary hearing to dispose of the motive issue by asserting that Goodwin had no reason to want Thompson dead. Despite appearances, it was Goodwin who came out ahead of Thompson in their dispute, not the other way around. Goodwin, claimed Saris, wasn’t the slightest bit mad. He had done such a “decent job of hiding and protecting his assets” that all Thompson ever collected out of his $768,000 judgment was perhaps $1,800 worth of old engine parts and a few hundred from forgotten bank accounts.
To Alan Jackson, one of the deputy D.A.s prosecuting Goodwin, the notion that Goodwin wasn’t mad at Thompson was absurd on its face. “Mike Goodwin’s multimillion-dollar lifestyle had the knees knocked out from under it,” he replied. “His business was taken away. His livelihood was taken away. He had to declare personal bankruptcy. His very home, car, his personal bank accounts, they were all becoming subject to the whims, if you will . . . of Mickey Thompson. If Mike Goodwin was winning, he certainly didn’t say so. [Instead, he said:] ‘I’m going to kill that son of a bitch. I’m going to kill that motherfucker.’ ”
Not surprisingly, at the end of the preliminary hearing, Judge Teri Schwartz ordered Goodwin held for trial, saying, “Of all the evidence presented in this case, there is simply no one else the court can say committed this crime.”
“Of course, she doesn’t know anyone else,” defense attorney Elena Saris would later say. “The defense didn’t get the opportunity to present our side of the case.”
After 18 years, the case has taken an enormous toll on everyone concerned. Goodwin has been in jail without bail for five years, awaiting trial. He’s got high blood pressure, impaired vision in one eye, toe problems that make it difficult to walk and such severe back pain that he can’t sit for more than 30 minutes at a time. Still, he keeps working. Writing with a 3½-inch stubby yellow pencil, he turns out complicated, cited, footnoted legal documents, memoranda and media briefing books with titles like “Government Fraud in the Thompson Murder Investigation,” “Elaborate Malevolent Conspiracy” and “There Is Evidence Thompson May Have Been Killed by Loan Sharks or Money Launderers.”
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city