Witkin was shot to death on the evening of March 21, 1980, at his home in San Jose. Evidence from the crime scene showed that he was struck nine times in a hail of gunfire from a .22-caliber Marlin brand rifle at his front door. Bullet holes through the door suggested that he was first shot outside and then retreated behind the door, where he was hit by more rounds. An alert neighbor had earlier noticed two people in a faded gold, 1970’s model car with an out-of-state license plate (VNM 530) in the neighborhood.
Witkin, an executive at a Santa Clara glass and mirror factory, had been married to Judith Singer (defendant’s wife at the time of the killing), but the union, which produced three children, ended in divorce. At the time of the killing, Judith was married to defendant and had moved with him and the children to Flint, Michigan, where defendant that past December opened a soup-and-sandwich place called the Onion Crock Restaurant, in the Genessee Valley Mall.
Richard Powell, a security guard at the mall who had gotten to know defendant, testified that in late January or early February (all dates are in 1980 unless noted otherwise), defendant asked him if he knew someone who did “contracts,” explaining that his ex-wife was “soaking” him for money and that he would like to kill her. He seemed serious, asking again a couple weeks later, and apparently wanted the contract executed in California. Powell said he was not looking for anyone.
Kevin McCarthy, general manager at the Onion Crock, helped defendant open the restaurant and did all of the hiring and firing. He testified that in late February to early March defendant asked him where he could find a “hit man,” someone who could “waste another person.” McCarthy did not know what to say but did not turn him down. A couple days later, defendant had McCarthy accompany him to a local night club, the Aladden, where McCarthy knew the manager. Defendant told McCarthy to ask the manager where they could get a hit man. McCarthy obliged. Upon returning with apparently disappointing news, defendant said, “Let’s go,” and [226 Cal. App. 3d 29] they left. Then, a day or two later, defendant began pressuring him to help get a hit man. He mentioned money-as much as $10,000 to $25,000. McCarthy told him he would “take a wild chance and make a phone call.” He tried to call a friend in Detroit (who was not a hit man) but could not reach him. McCarthy was concerned for his job and so was trying to “humor” defendant, who appeared serious. He told him on a later occasion that he had gone back to the Aladden “to check again,” but in fact he had not gone for that reason.
One of the people hired by McCarthy was Gary Oliver, who started as a busboy and quickly worked his way up to cook. Defendant kept telling McCarthy “from day to day that he had to get that problem solved” and seemed obsessed with the idea. Eventually, though, he quit bringing it up. Then, on returning to work after taking St. Patrick’s Day (the 17th) off, McCarthy was surprised to learn from defendant that he had personally fired Oliver. (This was odd because McCarthy did all the hiring and firing.) That same month, sometime before defendant and his wife were to leave on a planned trip to California, McCarthy overheard defendant talking on the phone to someone about buying a low-priced car. Defendant and his wife left for California on learning that Witkin had died. While they were gone, McCarthy saw Oliver at the restaurant. Oliver was tanned, had money and nice clothes, and said he had been to California, where his car had blown up and had to be deserted. Defendant telephoned from California and, in the course of a conversation, said “that his problem had been taken care of.” McCarthy went to Michigan state police with his suspicions on April 1st.
Oliver, who had not testified at the first trial, testified at the second. Midway through the People’s case, he entered a plea to solicitation of murder (§ 653f), with a maximum sentence of six years expected, and agreed to testify. He recounted that defendant asked him in March if he would be interested in making $10,000 for killing someone for him. He kept “pestering” Oliver, who refused at first, and eventually gave him a slip of paper with Howard Witkin’s name and address on it.
Oliver in turn solicited Andrew Granger, saying he was getting $5,000 and would give him half. Furnished with money by defendant, they bought a shotgun for $300 and a 1970 or 1971 gold Chevrolet Malibu (license plate VNM 530) for $450. They registered the car in the name of Dennis Liquia, a friend who accompanied them there, and promised to give him the car when they were through with it. (Liquia testified to the sale and arrangement, and a Michigan sales clerk testified to Granger’s purchase of a 12-gauge shotgun.) The car ultimately had to be abandoned in San Jose, but Granger and Oliver brought back the license plates and gave them to Liquia. [226 Cal. App. 3d 30]
Oliver and Granger drove to California with the newly bought shotgun and a .22-caliber gun which Granger had. They reached San Jose on Thursday, March 20 and drove around Witkin’s home to stake it out that night. The car broke down the next day, and Oliver had Granger place a long-distance call to ask defendant for more money. Defendant spoke with Oliver and told him they would get no money until the job was done. While stranded there, they met Tom Maciolek and Maciolek’s girlfriend Heather. They stayed with them that night (Friday the 21st), explaining their plans.
Maciolek gave them a ride to Witkin’s house that night. They dropped Granger off near the house and parked. Granger returned saying he thought he had done it. He related ringing the doorbell, shooting Witkin when he emerged and then, when Witkin went back in and slammed the door shut, shooting through the door, trying the door and finding it locked.
The next morning, Oliver and Granger called defendant from a phone booth. Defendant asked Oliver if he did it, and Oliver said he thought so. Granger asked for money to get home, and defendant sent a Western Union Moneygram the next day. They left the shotgun with Maciolek and returned to Michigan by bus. After they got back, defendant called Oliver from California to congratulate him and said he would “take care of” (meaning pay) him when he got back. Defendant thereafter sent Oliver $500 a week, part of which Oliver gave to Granger. (Western Union employees and records verified that a “Stewart Granger” in Flint, Michigan wired $600 to Andrew Granger in San Jose on March 22. Public records did not show a Stewart Granger living at the address given by the sender.)
Granger did not testify live. When called to the stand, he invoked his privilege against self-incrimination, apparently because his appeal was pending in this court, and was ruled unavailable. His testimony from the first trial was read into evidence.
Granger’s account closely tracked Oliver’s except that Granger was kept in the dark about the target of the enterprise until he and Oliver reached California. Until then, Oliver had said that they were after a dope dealer who sold to kids. Once across the California border, Oliver showed Granger pictures of Witkin and a piece of paper with Witkin’s name and address on it. Also, Granger had no direct contact with defendant until he spoke with him on the phone just before the murder, after the car broke down in San Jose. Granger came to know that the one hiring them (referred to as “Bob” or “Mr. Big”) was Oliver’s boss in Michigan and that the victim was the boss’s wife’s ex-husband. “Bob” told him on the phone, after the murder, that he would send the money in Granger’s name so that there would be no record of his employee Oliver being in San Jose. Granger used a .22-caliber [226 Cal. App. 3d 31] Marlin-Glenfield rifle which he brought along as a backup to the shotgun they bought.
Unusual Suspects: Kill Now Pay Later
Robert Howard Singer – convicted, sentenced to 25 years to life; released in 2004
Judi Singer – convicted, sentenced to LWOP
Andrew Lee Granger – convicted,
Name: GRANGER, ANDREW LEE
Admission Date: 10/01/1981
Current Location: Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility
Main Phone: (619) 661-6500
480 Alta Road, San Diego, CA 92179