A Santa Cruz jury must decide whether concrete estimator David Alford shot a 58-year-old surfboard maker and parolee in the head in a cold-blooded execution-style murder, or whether he did it in self-defense and in defense of his 24-year-old daughter.
The six-man, six-woman jury heard opening statements Friday, as well as testimony from a friend of the victim's, whose cell phone linked police to the alleged killer. Two very different versions emerged of the death of Hans Hugo Heath, 58, on the night of April 20, 2009, as told by the opposing attorneys.
Prosecutor Celia Rowland asked the jury to convict Alford on first-degree murder charges, and to convict his daughter, Laura, with aiding her father in covering up the crime. His penalty could range from 25 years in prison to death.
By the end of the trial, Rowland told the jury, "you will know that David Alford murdered Hans Heath. He held a gun to his neck at point blank range and shot him in the head."
She told Judge Paul Marigonda's courtroom that the killing took place in Alford's 2008 white Lexus SUV, while Heath sat in the passenger seat. Afterward, Alford made efforts to hide the crime, including stashing his bloody wedding ring in a bowl of bleach in his garage, burning clothes and scrubbing the inside of the Lexus.
However, she said, Heath's blood had soaked deep into the car, under the center console and into screw holes, where it was recovered by forensic investigators. Heath's body was found the next day by tourists from Massachusetts who had stopped to admire the view near Point Sur and spotted the gruesome torso.
Heath was identified by a Monterey County detective who found a parole card in his wallet. Heath had served a year in San Quentin for robbery.
Police were led to Alford and his daughter by a phone record given them by one of Heath friends, fellow surfboard maker Robert Ledesma, who told his cousin, a Watsonville policeman, that he had evidence that might help the Santa Cruz case.
Ledesma described Heath as a maintenance drinker, who would go through a six-pack during a work day but didn't lose control. However, he said, in the short phone call he got from Heath while he was with Laura and David Alford, Heath appeared happy one minute and extremely sad the next, and said "he needed a hug."
Heath and the father and daughter had all spent time in Oregon, which he assumed was their connection.
Rowland gave no motive for the killing, however she suggested that it was clearly intentional, because the gun was held tightly to Heath's head when it was fired.
In one chilling description, Rowland said that when Alford was being questioned by detectives, he asked what he should do. A detective told him that telling the truth was the best thing to do. Alford said that if he did that, he wouldn't be able to go out and get fish and chips that night.
In sharp contrast, defense attorney Ken Azevedo described a night of drinking that got out of hand. The two strangers had just met outside a liquor store and went to Alford's Geoffroy Drive home, near 16th Street, to drink and hang out. Alford's wife was away on a trip for Countrywide Home Loans, where she worked. At some point, Heath, whose blood alcohol level was 0.35— four times the legal limit—began behaving badly, and neither Alford nor his daughter could control him.
They ended up in the SUV heading south on Portola Drive toward 41st Street, when Heath, in the passenger seat, began grabbing the steering wheel, almost driving into oncoming traffic, and threatening his daughter, who was driving. Alford, he said, reached into a camera case in the back seat and grabbed a small gun he intended to use to strike Heath.
Instead, the gun went off, taking off part of Alford's ring finger. He thought he had only shot himself but saw that Heath was struck.
"This was a chance encounter at a liquor store that led to tragedy," said Azevedo.
Rather than call police, Alford went to his house to figure out "how this went so horribly wrong," said the attorney. "He drove to Big Sur and tried to make this whole nightmare go away."
Alford, who worked in San Jose for 20 years for a concrete company, sat next to his daughter in the courtroom, but they never spoke. Both turned to face the jury as they entered the courtroom returning from a break.
Alford wore a suit and had his hair trimmed considerably shorter than his booking photos. Laura Alford is being represented by attorney Tom Wallraff, who told the jury that his client was so shocked by the events that she lost her sense of reality.
She was arrested in Oregon a year after the crime.
"Clearly, you will know that the father and daughter have not planned how to deal with the authorities," Wallraff said.
"All she wanted was to think it was a bad dream," he said of his client. "All she wanted to do was to wake up."
The trial, which has been stalled by illnesses, will continue Tuesday with more of the prosecution's case.