Closing arguments underway in La Quinta artist killing trial
A La Quinta artist was killed by "greedy men," one of whom shot him in the back "like a coward," a prosecutor told jurors today.
The prosecutors comments came in closing arguments in the retrial of two men accused in the Oct. 25, 1997, murder-for-hire of Bernardo Gouthier. Jesse Dean Nava and Jerry Eugene Reynolds are both representing themselves.
The defendants were convicted in February 2007 of murder, with a special circumstance allegation of murder for financial gain, but their convictions were overturned in 2008 by an appeals court panel due to a jury selection error.
A third man, Michael Marohn, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in December 2006 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Another 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 at 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.
Pattison Hayton, the estranged husband of Gouthier's live-in girlfriend, Kathy Barr, allegedly hired Reynolds to have Gouthier killed. Hayton and Barr, who had a young son, were involved in a contentious divorce, Deputy District Attorney Scot Clark said.
"We're here because greedy men killed Bernardo Gouthier at the behest of an angry, jealous, controlling, immature, rich man," Clark said in his closing argument. "We're here because Jesse Nava went into that home with his confederates . . . and shot Bernardo Gouthier four times. We're here because Jerry Reynolds is the middle man at the behest of that rich man, setting everything in motion."
Clark alleged that Hayton used Reynolds, his "go-to guy" in other matters, to "exploit ... young men to get the deed done."
He said Nava "blames Mr. Gouthier for his own death" and shot him in the back "like a coward."
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 the victim's home as he was getting ready to leave to meet Barr. Gouthier, who 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 alleged.
Reynolds, who worked on the air conditioning at Hayton's 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, the prosecutor alleged.
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, according to the prosecutor.
Reynolds told jurors that Nava and Marohn went to the wrong house to pick up stolen art, which would be delivered to Hayton.
"You will hear this was a tragic mistake," said Reynolds, who alleged that Nava and Marohn were high on drugs at the time.
He said Nava shot Gouthier "out of fear," and that there was no murder-for-hire plot.
Nava testified that he, Marohn and Gonzalez went to Gouthier's house to collect money or property to pay a debt. Gouthier told the men to leave, and Marohn stepped forward with a Taser. Nava moved to take it from him, and Gouthier jumped up and started yelling, Nava said.
"He kind of went down in a football stance to kind of hit me with his shoulder maybe, and that's when Michael yelled, `Shoot him, shoot him,"' Nava said. "I closed my eyes and just squeezed the gun."
He said he later told his daughter's mother and a friend that he'd shot a man, and Marohn's father later told him, "It's bigger than you think it is."
"He said, `The guy going down for this is Jerry (Reynolds). He used you guys, you guys didn't know better,"' Nava said.
He said the night of the killing, "there was no previous knowledge of Pat (Hayton), no previous knowledge of Kathy (Barr)."
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.
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