Five men were involved in the "cold-blooded, calculated" murder-for-hire of a La Quinta artist, a prosecutor told jurors today in the trial of two of the alleged culprits, but one of them insisted he shot the victim in self-defense and claimed there were inconsistencies in statements by prosecution witnesses.
Jesse Dean Nava and Jerry Eugene Reynolds are both representing themselves in their trial for the Oct. 25, 1997, murder of Bernardo Gouthier. They were convicted in February 2007 of murder and a special circumstance allegation of murder for financial gain in the slaying, but their convictions were overturned in 2008 by an appeals court because of a jury selection error.
A third man, co-defendant Michael Marohn, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in December 2006 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Co-defendant Mario Gonzalez was tried separately, convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Gouthier, 43, was shot to death in the front yard of his La Quinta home in an area known as Sculpture Park, where he displayed his work and that of other artists. Nava, 32, and Reynolds, 57, were arrested in 2001 in connection with the murder.
"This is what happens when greed wells up in men who have no regard for human life," Deputy District Attorney Scot Clark told jurors in his opening statement. He said the details of the case are like "a script for one heck of a movie . . . it's lurid, it's salacious and it's all true."
Pattison Hayton, the estranged husband of Gouthier's live-in girlfriend, Kathy Barr, allegedly hired Reynolds to have Gouthier killed, according to court documents. Hayton and Barr, who had a young son, were involved in a contentious divorce, Clark said.
"Mr. Reynolds agreed, for a lot of money, to kill a man . . . Mr. Reynolds, in turn, subcontracted (the killing) to Mr. Nava and his associates for less money," Clark said.
Nava, Marohn and Gonzalez went to Gouthier's home in a truck supplied by Hayton while Barr was out having dinner with friends, and entered Gouthier's home as he was getting ready to leave and meet Barr. Gouthier was forced to his knees in his bedroom, tried to get away and was shot four times by Nava, once in the neck and three times in the back, Clark said.
"Mr. Gouthier collapsed in his own yard," the prosecutor said.
Reynolds, who worked on Hayton's air conditioning at his home in PGA West in La Quinta, was at Hayton's house the days before and after the killing, and he received a large stock transfer and cashier's checks totaling roughly $55,000 from Hayton, Clark said.
In a recorded phone conversation, Reynolds told his father-in-law he was wanted for murder and said he was a "go-between," Clark said.
Nava and Marohn told police in corroborating interviews that they were paid to go to Gouthier's home to kill him, the prosecutor said.
"Mr. Nava said it best, it sums up what this case is all about -- `I killed the (expletive) for money. What's more cold-blooded than that?"' Clark said.
He asked jurors to hold Nava and Reynolds responsible for a "cold-blooded, calculated and premeditated murder for hire."
Reynolds deferred his opening statement until he presents his case.
Nava said he shot Gouthier to defend himself, and Marohn's testimony would support that.
"You're going to hear from the star witness, somebody who was there, that it was not an execution-style murder, he was shot as he was attacking me," Nava said.
He said Marohn also "tailored" his story to the prosecution's case, and he intends to show "inconsistencies" in his and other witnesses' statements.
He said he and the other men went to Gouthier's house to collect money, not kill him. There was also no evidence of a murder for hire, he said.
"I'm just asking you guys to pay attention ... I'm not the greatest guy in the world, but that's not what's on trial," Nava said. Hayton died of a heart attack in 2003 in London, before authorities could arrest him, Clark said.
Nava and Reynolds are being held without bail.