After a mistrial the first time around, Corey Lyons—the man accused of murdering his brother and his brother’s longtime girlfriend during the early morning hours of May 4, 2009, while the two slept in their home—is back in front of a jury, who heard opening statements from both sides Monday.
Lyons is charged with two counts of murder with special circumstances of lying in wait, committing a double murder, and murder for financial gain, all of which could potentially result in life imprisonment without parole. The allegation that he used a gun could add another life sentence. Separate from the murders themselves, he is also charged with residential burglary.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Gordon Auchincloss told the jury that Lyons “brutally murdered” his brother, Daniel Lyons, and his life partner, Barbara Scharton, using a 12-gauge shotgun to shoot them multiple times, followed by a .38 caliber revolver once in their heads. After a lawsuit between the two brothers brought Corey Lyons to ruin, he was “driven by money… by financial gain” to murder, Auchincloss said.
The lawsuit, filed by Daniel Lyons and girlfriend Barbara Scharton, against Corey Lyons and his wife sought $1.5 million for issues related to their dissatisfaction with the house that Corey Lyons, a contractor, had built for the couple on the Mesa. Corey Lyons was sued by his brother for breach of contract, theft, and construction fraud, also alleging that the house took twice as long and cost twice as much to build than expected.
The two sides were on the verge of signing a settlement, explained Auchincloss. “The day of these murders was the very day Corey Lyons was going to lose it all,” he said, calling the murders “a revenge kill” that was personal. Auchincloss claims that in this trial he has evidence of motive, means, alibi, and “statements from the defendant’s own mouth” of his intent to murder his brother with premeditation.
At 1:28 a.m. on the morning of May 4, gun shots were fired at 621 Aurora Avenue. At 1:34 a.m., police arrived, and a neighbor described a white pickup truck she had driven by that was parked with headlights on mere minutes after the shooting. It would later be confirmed that the defendant owned a white pickup at the time, Auchincloss told the jury.
Corey Lyons could not be located in the hours following the murder, and he wasn’t in bed when police arrived at his residence later that morning at 3 a.m. Police searched a motor home belonging to Lyons that was sitting across the street from his Goleta home, but did not find him. But at 9 a.m., Auchincloss said, Lyons appeared from this same motor home, confused as to what was going on. After being identified, police arrested and handcuffed the suspected man, who then began to “shake uncontrollably.”
Auchincloss also remarked about a “whisper tape” in which Corey Lyons wife spoke in a recorded conversation with her husband in whispers. She speaks, among other things, of being asked by police if Lyons owned any guns, and telling them no.
That same day, “shotgun residue” alleged by Auchincloss to be from the murder weapon, was found on many of Lyons’ possessions, including his hands. Police also found a storage box with a handful of registered guns inside at one of Lyons’s construction sites; though none of the murder weapons were found, and still have yet to be found.
Robert Sanger, attorney for Lyons, told the jury there simply isn’t enough evidence to convict his client of these murders. Aside from the lack of evidence, argued Sanger, law enforcement jumped to suspect Lyons early on, failing to fingerprint thoroughly at the scene or do any further investigation after Lyons’s quick arrest. “Who shot Daniel Lyons and Barbara Scharton?” he asked in court Monday morning, insisting that more than one person was involved, possibly up to three.
There were gun shots “at rapid succession,” with two or three seconds between firing, reported neighbors. In the large, three-story house, where one victim was shot on the first floor and the other on the third, it would make it impossible for one individual to perpetrate the murder, he told the jury. Sanger added that police don’t know how many firearms were used, but they know there were at least three guns. Sanger suggested it impossible that Lyons could carry three guns along with a flashlight.
He also suggested that some police officers investigating the case have changed part of their statements from their original observations. And some witnesses questioned had changed their observations of the size of pickup truck they saw in the neighborhood from original reports, and have matched it to the description of the white pickup owned by Lyons. This, he said, leaves the possibility that once the defendant was arrested, police and witnesses quickly made themselves believe that it was Lyons’s truck they saw, though this might not be what they really saw.
Sanger also addressed shotgun residue found on Lyons’s hands and on some of his possessions. He argued that the material could also be found at construction sites, which Lyons — as a contractor — is constantly exposed to. Sanger mentioned how concrete nail guns used in construction even shoot like a gun. And Sanger acknowledges that Lyons did indeed own guns as an avid collector, but he reminded the jury that none of the guns found in the storage box were used in the murder. As well, he said, that residue could’ve rubbed off of handcuffs or while being transferred in police cars.
The trial is expected to play out much the same way as the first trial, which ended in a mistrial in December after Judge Brian Hill ruled a witness statement, which shouldn’t have been allowed, was too prejudicial to the jury. The statement came from the brother of Corey and Daniel Lyons.