A contract killer who was hired 25 years ago to murder his employer's romantic rival, a Palm Desert man whose remains were found buried in a Nevada streambed, was convicted Wednesday of murder.
Jurors deliberated for about three hours before returning a first- degree murder verdict and finding true a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait against Russell Huber, 59, of Oroville.
He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is sentenced Jan. 12 for killing 41-year-old Clyde Gregory Hayward, who never arrived for a date with his girlfriend on July 6, 1992. His pickup truck was found about two weeks later on Highway 95, 26 miles north of Blythe, with dried blood and two .380 shell casings found about 100 yards east of the vehicle.
Hayward's girlfriend, whose name was not disclosed, told detectives at the time that she had turned down a marriage proposal from her employer, John Nichols, and believed he was behind her boyfriend's disappearance, but there was no concrete evidence.
The prosecution alleged that after being rejected by the victim's girlfriend, Nichols arranged a fake business meeting with Hayward under the guise of securing golf carts for a development project. Hayward, a golf mechanic who previously had worked for a golf cart distributor, was killed after he showed up to meet with Huber and Peter Boncore, a longtime associate of the defendant, according to the district attorney's office.
Huber told investigators he and Boncore were in the desert, where they ``had a meeting with a guy about golf carts on behalf of Nichols,'' according to the prosecution's trial brief. Huber said they sat down at a diner and later went to Hayward's house, but the victim was ``alive and well'' when the meeting ended.
The victim's remains were found in a streambed in Clark County, Nevada, in February 1993, but weren't positively identified until May 20, 2014.
Following the identification, DNA analysis was conducted on several discarded cigarette butts found near the victim's abandoned truck. DNA and fingerprint evidence linked the cigarettes to Huber, who speculated during interviews with detectives that his DNA got into Hayward's pickup because he drove the truck from the diner to Hayward's house.
According to the prosecution, Nichols -- who died in 2001 -- hired Boncore to carry out the killing, and he, in turn, recruited Huber. Boncore and Nichols met in prison in the 1980s.
Nichols, known as ``Octopus,'' had previous ties to murders-for-hire, including a still-unsolved 1981 triple killing involving Cabazon Band of Mission Indians Tribal Leader Fred Alvarez, who was shot to death at his Rancho Mirage home, along with friends Ralph Boger and Patricia Castro.
At the time, Nichols was the tribe's financial manager and was suspected of silencing Alvarez to prevent him from exposing Nichols' alleged illegal activities -- rumored to include the establishment of a weapons testing site on the reservation.
Nichols was never officially tied to the murders but was sentenced to four years in prison for solicitation of murder in an unrelated case and sometime thereafter met Boncore.
Jimmy ``James'' Hughes, a security official-turned-preacher, was charged in 2009 with the Rancho Mirage triple-murder, but prosecutors dropped the charges the following year, citing insufficient evidence.
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