RIVERSIDE, Calif. - A contract killer who fatally shot a Palm Desert man more than two decades ago was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
A Riverside jury on Dec. 6 convicted Russell Huber, 59, of Oroville of first-degree murder, with a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait, for the death of 41-year-old Clyde Gregory Hayward.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Bernard Schwartz imposed the sentence required by law. The District Attorney's Office could have sought the death penalty for Huber, but elected not to pursue it.
Hayward went missing in July 1992, and his pickup truck was found about two weeks later on Highway 95, 26 miles north of Blythe, with dried blood found inside and two .380 shell casings discarded about 100 yards east of the vehicle.
Hayward's girlfriend told detectives at the time she had turned down a marriage proposal from her employer, John Nichols, and alleged that he was behind her boyfriend's disappearance, but there was no concrete evidence.
The prosecution said that after being rejected by the woman, Nichols arranged a fake business meeting with Hayward on the pretext of securing golf carts, which the victim sold, for a development project.
Hayward ended up meeting with Huber and Peter Boncore, a longtime associate of the defendant, as part of that arrangement and was killed. Huber told investigators that he and Boncore were in the desert, where they "had a meeting with a guy about golf carts on behalf of Nichols,''
according to the prosecution. Huber said they sat down at a diner and later went to Hayward's house, but the victim was "alive and well'' when the meeting ended.
Huber speculated during interviews with detectives that his DNA got into Hayward's pickup because he drove the truck from the diner to Hayward's house.
The victim's remains were found in a streambed near Christmas Tree Pass, just north of Laughlin, Nevada, in February 1993, but weren't positively identified until May 20, 2014.
Following the identification, DNA analysis was conducted on several discarded cigarette butts found near the victim's abandoned truck. Forensic evidence linked the cigarettes to Huber.
According to the prosecution, Nichols -- who died in 2001 -- hired Boncore to carry out the killing, and he, in turn, recruited Huber. Boncore and Nichols met in prison in the 1980s.
Nichols, known as "Octopus,'' had previous ties to murders-for-hire, including a still-unsolved 1981 triple killing involving Cabazon Band of Mission Indians Tribal Leader Fred Alvarez, shot to death at his Rancho Mirage home, along with friends Ralph Boger and Patricia Castro, according to the prosecution.
At the time, Nichols was the tribe's financial manager and was suspected of silencing Alvarez to prevent him from exposing alleged illegal activities -- rumored to include the establishment of a weapons testing site on the reservation.
Nichols was never officially tied to the murders but was sentenced to four years in prison for solicitation of murder in an unrelated case.
Jimmy "James'' Hughes, a former tribal security official, was charged in 2009 with the Rancho Mirage triple-murder, but prosecutors dropped the charges the following year, citing insufficient evidence.
Noticias en español: Telemundo 15