Three years and three weeks after Daniel Lyons and his partner of 20 years — Barbara Scharton — were brutally murdered in their Mesa home, Daniel’s brother Corey Lyons was sentenced by a Santa Barbara judge to life in prison without parole.
Family members in court Tuesday spoke of how the murders divided a family with a history of tension. From the beginning of the case, it was clear there were issues: the morning of the murders, Corey was to have settled a lawsuit filed against him by Daniel and Barbara, who alleged the construction work done on their house by Corey had been shoddy.
Tuesday morning, after sitting through three trials — two of which ended in mistrials — Corey Lyons listened to one of his other brothers talk about the impact of his actions on his family. “You salvaged nothing in your own life,” Dr. Tom Lyons said, as Corey sat looking straight ahead, showing no emotion. “You destroyed that which you claimed to care for the most — your own family.”
The mother of Tom, Daniel, and Corey was not in court Tuesday, but wrote a letter to the judge in support of Corey. She, and some others in the family, had supported Corey throughout the trials, while others were convinced of his guilt. “There’s been a split,” Tom said after the hearing. “Our family is damaged. I don’t know if it’s repairable or not.”
In court, he told Corey he had damaged the Lyons name irreparably. “You have put upon your mother … the greatest grief a mother could have,” Tom said. “You were a coward the night you snuck into their house. You have continued to act like a coward, showing no remorse. There should be no forgiveness for this heinous crime.”
Authorities alleged throughout the trial that Corey Lyons broke into the home he built for his brother early in the morning on May 4, 2009 — the night before the Jesusita Fire broke out — and shot Daniel Lyons and Barbara Scharton multiple times with a shotgun and handgun. He managed to escape prior to police arriving, but the focus of their investigation turned quickly to Corey. He wasn’t at his Goleta home when Santa Barbara police arrived a few hours later. They also didn’t see him in a motor home parked across the street, according to testimony. But several hours later, he walked out of the motor home. While the weapons used in the crime were never located, police detected gunshot residue on Corey’s hands.
“This obviously is a tragedy for the Lyons family of the greatest magnitude,” Judge Brian Hill said. “I don’t think anybody looking at this case would have anything but sympathy.”
Barbara Scharton’s brother, Chris Fulbright, wrote a letter that was read to the court. He talked about how his sister — the oldest of four — looked out for him growing up, and, more recently, for his 7-year-old son. “Every day I pull from the strength Barbara and Dan taught me,” he wrote. “I watched the woman do for my son what the girl growing up did for me.” Now, Fulbright wrote, his son doesn’t remember Scharton’s name but knows she is dead.
Christine Adams, Scharton’s sister, said she didn’t want to be in court. “Being in the same room with Corey Lyons makes me seriously ill,” she told the court. “There is no reforming this monster.”
It took three trials for the prosecution to secure the conviction. The first, which began in October 2010, ended in a mistrial in December 2010 after Tom Lyons made an improper, prejudicial statement on the stand. The court ruled the prosecutor, Gordon Auchincloss, did not commit misconduct, as he did not try to illicit the comment from the witness. Tom, while talking about his family’s feelings on the murders, told the jury, “It was nobody in that house — Patrick, Kit, Colleen, Darlene, Millie, or myself — ever questioned about the fact that Corey had done this.”
The judge decided the statement was too prejudicial to move forward and declared a mistrial. The second trial ended with a hung jury. At one point during their deliberation, a group of seven jurors believed Lyons was guilty, but by the end that number had dwindled to five.
So the prosecution went back to the drawing board. Senior Deputy DA Ron Zonen, who had earlier announced his retirement but had been helping the office on occasion, was assigned to try the case once again. The third time wasn’t the charm for Lyons when, in December 2011, he was found guilty of two counts of murder with enhancements for financial gain, lying in wait, and committing multiple murders. Each enhancement made Lyons eligible for life without parole. He was also found guilty of burglary.
The statements to the judge by relatives of Lyons and Scharton came on the heels of an effort by defense attorney Robert Sanger who argued — in a motion for a new trial — that the case had turned unfair by the third trial, as the prosecution was able to hone its case to avoid trouble it had previously encountered and was able to introduce new evidence.
Prosecutor Ron Zonen — and ultimately the judge — disagreed, stating in his papers, “In fact, presenting an identical case for the third trial would be a foolish prosecution strategy, as it might again invite a mistrial.”
In their arguments, both sides suggested the other had a better opportunity to prepare for the third trial after the first two. Zonen noted Sanger’s cross-examination took much longer during the second trial than it had in the first, and much longer in the third than it had in the second. Sanger argued that the prosecutor caused the first mistrial.
The judge denied the motion for a new trial. Sanger said after the hearing he intended to file a notice of appeal.