In an attempt to prove his brother Corey is responsible for the shooting deaths of their brother Daniel and his partner, Barbara Scharton, Tom Lyons uttered in court Monday that he and other family members were convinced of Corey’s guilt right after the two murders took place. Finding that testimony far out of bounds and prejudicial hearsay, Judge Brian Hill ruled that Tom’s opinion could influence the jury to such a degree—explaining it’s the jury’s job to determine guilt or innocence, not the witnesses’—that Corey would now be unable to receive a fair trial. The only proper way to move forward is to scrap all proceedings thus far and start the trial over with a new jury, he explained on Tuesday.
Further illuminating the long-standing bad blood between Lyons family members, Dr. Tom Lyons’ testimony challenged that given by his sister, Colleen Zitelli, in earlier testimony. Zitelli told jurors that on the night of May 4, 2009—when Dan Lyons and Scharton were gunned down in their Aurora Street home—she received a call from Corey. She and a “distressed” Corey reportedly talked about problems he was having with his wife, but the conversation, she said, never touched on anything relating to Daniel’s death.
Tom Lyons, though, testified Zitelli told him that Corey confided in her during the late-night conversation that their brother was dead, hours before police found the bodies. In fact, he went on to say, “No one questioned that Corey had done this,” referencing six family members by name who reportedly got together soon after and shared his view on Corey’s purported role in the double homicide. Tom offered this answer to a question posed by prosecuting attorney Gordon Auchincloss about what he thought Zitelli’s attitude was toward Daniel’s death. The answer, ultimately ruled Hill, was not only nonresponsive but also highly inappropriate, and is what led to the mistrial.
Tom’s tangent under oath was not the first time he had let his emotions get the best of him during questioning. In a previous interview with detectives, Tom expressed disgust that his mother, brother Patrick, and Zitelli were now living in Daniel’s Mesa home. “Those people never had a relationship with Dan and now they’re living in his house and making all these decisions,” he said, apparently referencing how the three family members are managing the estate. According to police sources, the Lyons matriarch is paying Corey’s attorney’s fees.
In an curious twist of fate, it also appears the whole reason the Lyons family, which is native to Santa Barbara, still owns the property is because Scharton was killed moments prior to Daniel: Scharton’s will states that when she died, her assets would go to Daniel first, then to family after. Daniel’s will said his property would be first transferred to Scharton in the event of his death, then his family. So when Scharton was killed, her belongings—including her part ownership of the house—went to Daniel, whose assets then quickly transferred to his remaining family.
The decision to have Corey build his dream home did not appear to have been made lightly by Daniel, it was revealed in court, as the two brothers hadn’t spoken in more than 20 years following a dispute over Daniel’s treatment of their father. After their father’s death, however, the estranged brothers reconciled enough—at the urging of their mother—to begin the construction process. The project, though, led to another rift during which Daniel wound up suing Corey over what he alleged was a botched job, a fight that the DA’s Office said led to the murders. Corey’s low opinion of Daniel was also evidently shared by his wife, who, during her time on the stand, didn’t dispute that she called Scharton a “bitch” and Daniel a “son of a bitch” when questioned by detectives.
Judge Hill’s Tuesday ruling was his second about Tom Lyons’ testimony and was met with reserved disappointment by Auchincloss. He had argued strenuously against Hill’s Monday decision to strike all of Tom’s statements from the record; that testimony, Auchincloss said, was so central to the People’s case that to lose it would be “fatally crippling” and that he’d rather just have a new trial. After the final ruling was handed down, he said, “The judge made his call. That’s how the system works, so I don’t second-guess it.” One jury member, Booker T. Warren, said he’s glad Hill made what he considers the right call, as Tom’s testimony “really tilted the scales to the prosecution” for him. “I’m glad the system works,” he said. “You need a fair trial.”
Lyons and both sets of attorneys will be back in court Friday when the details of a new trial will start to be hammered out.
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Hannah Scott and John Mardiat contributed to this report.