PASADENA, Calif. (AP) – Legendary racer Mickey Thompson and his wife were gunned down nearly 19 years ago in a hit ordered by an embittered former business partner, a prosecutor told the jury Monday in a dramatic opening statement.

Revenge for expensive legal defeats motivated Michael Goodwin to arrange the killings, said prosecutor Alan Jackson, who showed jurors enlarged photographs from Thompson’s celebrated career and of the couple lying in blood in their driveway.

The March 16, 1988, killings were engineered so Thompson, 59, would see his wife, Trudy, die before he was shot in the head, the prosecutor said.

“Over and over, the mantra he repeated was the same: ‘Please don’t hurt my wife,”‘ Jackson said, quoting neighbors who heard the couple’s cries.

Goodwin, 61, is charged with two counts of murder with special circumstances and faces life in prison if convicted.

Public defender Elena Saris countered in her opening statement that there is no forensic evidence, no murder weapon, no proof of a payout to anyone.

“This is the story of a botched investigation and a Hollywood series of events based on false assumptions,” Saris said.

Thompson competed in numerous auto sports and was the first person to travel more than 400 mph on land. He was inducted posthumously into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

Goodwin’s prosecution came about after years of pressure by Thompson’s sister, Collene Campbell.

Jackson told the jury that Thompson, who was known for staging Motocross races, went into business at age 55 with Goodwin, who was involved with Supercross, the intense motorcycle races typically staged on stadium dirt courses featuring dramatic jumps.

“The evidence in this case will show that from day one Michael Goodwin had bad intentions,” Jackson said, outlining a completely circumstantial case.

The prosecutor said Goodwin was once overheard “saying he was going to screw over Mickey Thompson. But he underestimated Mickey Thompson.”

Jackson said Thompson wasn’t highly educated but was brilliant.

“He was a Rhodes scholar in the school of hard knocks. He wasn’t going to get screwed over,” Jackson said.

Before long, Thompson realized he was being cheated and sued his new partner, Jackson said. Goodwin was ordered to repay more than $793,000 after a judge found that he had stolen more than $500,000, the prosecutor said.

Further lawsuits over the next two years forced Goodwin to declare bankruptcy, Jackson said.

“Michael Goodwin was suffering a pattern of losing he could not tolerate,” the prosecutor said.

Jackson said a witness will tell how Goodwin once declared: “Before he sees a dime I’ll have him wasted.”

Three witnesses testified that they heard Goodwin make threatening remarks about Thompson just weeks or months before the couple was gunned down.

One, former police Cmdr. Bill Wilson, testified that he had introduced the two men. He said he knew there were problems between them but was stunned when Goodwin told him: “Thompson is killing me. He’s destroying me. He’s taking everything I’ve got. I’m gonna take him out.”

Wilson said he replied, “Nobody wins that one. Mickey’s dead and you’re in prison.” When the conversation ended, he said, Goodwin told him he was joking.

Goodwin hired two men to go to the Thompsons’ house in the gated Los Angeles suburb of Bradbury, which he had scoped out beforehand, to shoot them and escape on bicycles, Jackson alleged.

Saris acknowledged harsh words were spoken between Goodwin and Thompson, but said “folklore was generated by the media,” leading witnesses to come forward with unsubstantiated allegations. She acknowledged her client had refused to pay the judgment Thompson won.

“You might not think of this as honorable behavior,” she said, “but it is not evidence of murder.”

Jackson said Goodwin’s behavior before and after the killings was enough to prove guilt.

Shortly after the killings, Jackson said, Goodwin liquidated his assets, sold his home, transferred money to an offshore account in the Caribbean and bought a $400,000 yacht on which he and his then-wife left the U.S. for three years.

AP-ES-11-06-06 2242EST

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