Corey Lyons leaves the courthouse in handcuffs July 2, 2009
Paul Wellman (file)

“Quite frankly, it’s time to end this case once and for all,” said defense attorney Robert Sanger in his closing argument for the murder trial against his client, Corey Lyons. The jury seemingly agreed, taking only five hours to come to a guilty verdict. Two previous cases ended in mistrials, the first due to a procedural violation and the second a hung jury.

Lyons was found guilty on two counts of first-degree murder with enhancements for financial gain, lying in wait, and committing multiple homicides. The convictions make him eligible for life in prison without parole. He was also found guilty of burglary and will be sentenced at a later date.

In the closing days of the current trial, which began three months ago, several members of the D.A.’s Office, including Gordon Auchincloss, who prosecuted Lyons the first two times, and Joyce Dudley, the DA herself, crowded into the back of the courtroom, perhaps signaling the importance of the trial to the office. Siblings of the Lyons brothers also helped fill up opposite sides of the courtroom, as did witnesses in the trial, including Daniel’s friend Dennis Boneck and neighbor Scott Gordon.

Prosecuting attorney Ron Zonen, who took a break from retirement to try this case, agreed that it was time to end the trial but interpreted the substantial yet largely circumstantial evidence quite differently than Sanger, who accused law enforcement of a shoddy investigation. He questioned their collection of evidence, the integrity of the perimeter they formed around Daniel Lyons’s home after the shootings, and their scientific exactitude in examining the gunshot residue found on Corey Lyons.

Zonen contended that Lyons single-handedly killed the couple with three weapons. “There is no entry in Craigslist for assassin,” he told the jury during his rebuttal in an attempt to discount the possibility of an accomplice. Barbara Scharton was shot with a shotgun and .22-caliber gun, Daniel Lyons with a shotgun and .38-caliber gun. Aside from the difficulties of finding an accomplice, Zonen argued that Corey Lyons was well motivated.

Later on the morning of May 4, 2009, he would have had to sign over a large chunk, if not most, of his assets — $100,000 and an undeveloped piece of property, along with another $150,000 within the next five years, for which there would be a lien on his home — to his brother, who had brought a lawsuit against him in 2008. Daniel sued Cory for a number of breaches, including worker’s compensation fraud, after the latter — who worked as a contractor under the name Select Construction — built a weekend home for the former.

Daniel and Corey had not talked for 15 years previously, and apparently Daniel hired Corey as a form of reconciliation. The defense contends that Daniel set Corey up.

In the weeks leading up to the civil trial, Corey had told several people that he wanted to kill his brother or that he’d like to hire someone to do so. Sanger argued that, although such talk made Corey a target for law enforcement, he was just expressing his anger as many people commonly do.

Sanger also argued that when Corey called up his sister, Colleen Zitelli, who lives in Petaluma, at 3:28 a.m. and told her “It’s over,” he was referring to the lawsuit, not the murder. He had reconciled himself to signing over his assets and taking on more work to repair his personal balance sheet. Likewise, Sanger argued that when Corey saw police cars near his RV on a neighbor’s property — where he was eventually apprehended — he did not come out because he believed his brother was following through on a threat to have him arrested for fraud.

Zonen argued that it made no sense for Daniel to have his brother arrested right before he was about to sign over money and land. Furthermore, said Zonen, Corey was holed up by that time and had no idea whether or not there were police on his property. Cops had stuck their heads in the RV at 3:21 a.m., but did not search it.

The defense claimed that Lyons was in the RV at the time, right after which he went to the office of business partner Harwin Management, where he left his motorcycle, fanny pack, and gloves, and from where he phoned his sister.

Later that morning, after Corey was in custody, a camera in a police station examination room recorded bits of a conversation between Corey and his wife, Millie Lyons. The prosecution says that the two were working out a false alibi. During the conversation, Corey said that he was on the “potty” when the door to the RV was opened. He thought it was Millie and did not want to be disturbed by the interruption, so he ignored her.

The jury, rejecting the potty defense, agreed with Zonen, who said afterward that the DA’s Office was convinced of Lyons’s guilt, even after the mistrials.


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