ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER FEBRUARY 14, 2013
SANTA ANA – A man accused of being a contract killer wiped tears Thursday as an Orange County jury acquitted him of murder charges.
The jury of seven men and five women in Superior Court Judge William Froeberg's courtroom deliberated about two days before finding Thomas Joseph Garrick, 37, of Laguna Hills not guilty of murder for financial gain and conspiracy to commit murder.
Garrick was expected to be released from custody Thursday night.
Prosecutors accused him of stabbing Jack Jessee four times in the chest Aug. 13, 1998, at Jessee's Placentia home, when wife Sandra Jessee was out running errands.
If convicted, he faced a life term in prison without the possibility of parole, a sentence Sandra Jessee is currently serving for orchestrating the killing of her husband because she worried his cancer care was eating up their savings.
Her son from a previous marriage, Thomas Dayton Aehlert, 42, of Gold Canyon, Ariz., pleaded guilty in 2011 to second-degree murder in a deal negotiated with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony.
Schrauben, 40, formerly of Coto de Caza, said when he returned to his pickup, where his friend and getaway driver Garrick waited, Garrick volunteered to do the killing.
Schrauben pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in 2008, also in exchange for his testimony, and was released after two years of time served.
Garrick's defense attorney Dennis O'Connell contended the co-defendants lied about Garrick's involvement to get leniency through plea agreements.
"I am very thankful that the jury had the courage to follow the law and see through the testimony" of Aehlert and Schrauben, said O'Connell, who insisted during trial that Schrauben was the killer.