Beverly Hills News – Jurors Recommend Death Penalty for Beverly Grove Murderer
Posted: Wednesday, September 14, 2016 – 11:17 AM
(CNS) – Jurors recommended the death penalty today for a man who arranged, from behind bars, the Beverly Grove murder of a witness against him in a robbery case.
Sentencing for Michael Thomas, 50, was set for Sept. 30. He was convicted last Thursday of murder for the killing of 42-year-old Erik Poltorak.
At the beginning of the trial’s penalty phase on Monday, Thomas asked his attorneys not to defend him against the death penalty.
Poltorak was a victim in an Aug. 13, 2011, home invasion robbery and had planned to testify against Thomas, identifying him as the perpetrator. Poltorak was shot to death on his doorstep in Beverly Grove on Halloween night 2012.
In addition to convicting Thomas of murder, jurors found true special circumstances allegations of killing a witness and lying in wait, which make Thomas eligible for a death sentence and triggered the penalty trial phase that began today.
“I don’t care for anyone to know about my life … to go into detail about my upbringing, my family,” Thomas, who spent time in juvenile detention, told Judge Robert J. Perry on Monday. Thomas asked that he be excused from court during the penalty phase, and Perry allowed him to be taken back to jail, over the objection of prosecutors.
During his opening statement of the penalty phase, Deputy District Attorney Bobby Zoumberakis played a 911 call in which a co-worker who arrived at Poltorak’s house and found him shot in the face and back of the head sounded hysterical and was hyperventilating.
She tied the murder to Poltorak’s pending court appearance, telling the 911 dispatcher, “I’m sure he did it, he did it,” of the man charged in the robbery case, without citing Thomas by name.
Poltorak “left behind a 15-year-old daughter who suffered from autism,” Zoumberakis said, telling the six-man, six-woman jury they would hear evidence of the impact of the crime on her life.
“She was 9 years old when he was killed … she can’t talk about it to this day,” Zoumberakis said.
“This was a brutal execution,” but the case isn’t just about Poltorak, the prosecutor said. “The other victim” is the justice system and the penalty phase is about “making sure no one is above the law,” he said.
Zoumberakis said Thomas manipulated his three co-defendants to carry out Poltorak’s killing and had a long history of criminal and violent acts, including threats to Culver City police officers, a stabbing and using a shank in jail.
“This is the type of conduct and this is the type of (individual) that warrants it,” Zoumberakis told the jury, asking them to recommend the death penalty rather than life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Allen Williams, the gunman, who was 23 years old with no prior criminal record at the time of the crime, is serving a life sentence without the chance of parole.
Thomas’s niece, Jessicha Thomas, was 20 years old at the time and also had no criminal record. She testified against Thomas in exchange for a leniency agreement for second-degree murder.
Yvonne Keith, 49 years old at the time of the murder, pressured the other two into committing the killing. She is also serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.