SANTA ANA – The larger-than-life owner of a lucrative and legendary topless nightclub lived a lavish lifestyle although he owed a lot of money to a lot of people – and it was all about to crash in on him as 1987 approached, a prosecutor told an Orange County jury Monday.
When the self-named Jimmy Casino, 47, returned to his Buena Park condo after a New Year’s Day night at the movies with his 22-year-old girlfriend, two assailants were waiting in the darkness, Deputy District Attorney Michael Murray said.
And one of them said, according to the girlfriend, “We’re getting paid to do this,” Murray said in his opening statement of the murder trial for Richard Charles Morris II.
Casino tried to reason with two intruders and promised to take them to his club – the Mustang Topless Theater – for money if they left his girlfriend unharmed, Murray added, but instead the two raped the girlfriend and shot Casino in the back of the head with a .22-caliber handgun equipped with a silencer.
It was one of Orange County’s most notorious unsolved slayings for years – until a national DNA database in 2008 linked Morris, who was living in Hawaii, to the rape.
Morris, 59, is now standing trial before a jury in Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno’s courtroom, charged with the special-circumstances murder of Casino during a robbery and for financial gain.
Deputy Public Defender Martin Schwarz agreed in his opening statement that the evidence appears to show that Casino was executed and his girlfriend raped as part of a mob-style hit connected to the control of the Mustang Topless Theater.
One informant, Schwarz said, told detectives that Casino was killed as part of a $25,000 hit arranged by one of the Mustang’s financial backers, who hired a team of thugs that did not include Morris.
The defense attorney also told the jury that DNA evidence is “not the “fool-proof, almost Godlike crime-solving tool” it is made out to be, and is only as good as the way it is processed. In the Casino case, Schwarz insisted, the DNA evidence was mishandled and “treated like garbage” for years until it was “magically linked” to Morris.
The trial is expected to last about two weeks. If convicted, Morris could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is the only defendant charged with Casino’s murder, but the investigation is still open.
By LARRY WELBORN/ ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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