Closing arguments began Friday in the case of Corey Lyons, the Goleta man accused of shooting two family members in their Santa Barbara home.
Lyons’ brother, Daniel, and his brother’s life partner, Barbara Scharton, were found dead in their home on the Mesa on May 4, 2009. Neighbors called police after hearing shots coming from the home, and when authorities made their way in, they found the two bodies shot to death in different rooms.
Lyons is facing two first-degree murder charges with special allegations of use of a firearm, multiple murders, lying in wait and murder for financial gain. If the jury doesn’t unanimously agree to those charges, it will be asked to consider two second-degree murder charges as well as residential burglary and entering a residence with the intent to commit a felony.
The case has spent ample time in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, with the first attempt ending in a mistrial and the second resulting in a hung jury, with a 7-5 decision. Jurors for the current trial are being bused in each day from Solvang.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen began his arguments by walking through a time line of the day of the shootings, which started with Aurora Avenue residents calling Santa Barbara police about 1:30 a.m. after hearing shots fired and the sound of broken glass.
The SWAT team broke into the house about 6:30 a.m. and found the bodies of Daniel Lyons and Scharton. The two bedrooms in which they were found were “absolute mayhem,” but nothing in the rest of the home was disturbed, Zonen said. The Coroner’s Office determined that both people had defensive wounds and that multiple guns were used.
In the meantime, a conversation with Daniel Lyons’ best friend, who also lives on the Mesa, led police to question Corey Lyons at his home in Goleta. The two brothers were involved in a contentious lawsuit over the Mesa home, which was built by Corey Lyons.
As of 3 a.m. when police arrived, Lyons wasn’t home and his wife, Mildred, had no idea where he was, according to Zonen.
“It’s significant to us and it’s significant to you that he’s not where his wife thinks he should be at 3 in the morning,” he said.
Police checked the home and motor home across the street, but didn’t find him.
The defense has argued Lyons was in the motor home the whole time, hiding when police came to look, but Zonen pointed to the 3:32 a.m. phone call Corey Lyons made to his sister, Colleen Zitelli. Lyons said “it’s over,” “take care of my family” and “this is not a confession,” Zonen recounted.
Zitelli has testified that the lawsuit wasn’t mentioned in the conversation, but Zonen rhetorically asked the jury if it was just coincidence that Lyons made such a statement two hours after his brother and brother’s partner had been shot to death.
After lunch, Zonen spent some time walking through the graphic events that occurred that night.
“Whoever may have been at fault … the answer was not killing someone in the middle of the night,” he told the jury.
Corey Lyons knew the layout of the house intimately, Zonen said, even which side of the floor plan the motion detectors were on.
“He knew because he installed them,” he said.
Zonen argued that Lyons went into Scharton’s room first, shooting her in the face. The noise woke Daniel Lyons, who was out of bed when Lyons allegedly entered the room and began to shoot, he said.
Scharton continued to make noise after being shot, according to Zonen, and Lyons returned to her bedroom, shooting her four more times.
The jury was shown graphic pictures of each of the bedrooms, both with the bodies of Scharton and Lyons pictured where they had died.
Much of the discussion revolved around why police Sgt. Mary Linda Arroyo didn’t call in when she saw a white truck leaving the neighborhood, one the prosecution alleges belonged to Corey Lyons. It’s unclear why Arroyo didn’t call in the sighting, but it could have been for a number of reasons, said Zonen, adding that not being sure what type of truck the suspect was fleeing in, or just relying on a split-second decision could have all been factors in her decision.
Zonen argued that Lyons drove home around 2 a.m. and disposed of the weapons, but police cars had already arrived on San Simeon and Lassen drives, the streets bordering his home.
Zonen also said that investigators found a large amount of gunshot residue on the back of Lyons’ right hand, as well as the front of his fanny pack, where Zonen alleged he kept extra ammunition.
With 10 shots fired with two guns in a closed environment, “he would have been covered with it,” he said. “The defendant is responsible and should be held accountable.”
Lyons’ attorney, Bob Sanger, was given only two hours to speak before the jury had to be bused home, but he encouraged jurors to question witness testimony of experts brought in, police officers and Zonen’s arguments.
“He was telling you what happened, but he wasn’t there,” Sanger said. “Corey Lyons did not kill his brother or Barbara Scharton.”
Sanger’s defense focused on Lyons’ whereabouts the night of the killing, saying he wasn’t at the Mesa home.
“The shooter was at Aurora at 1:30 a.m., and it appears that Corey Lyons was either in his home or his motor home,” he said.
Sanger said police officers didn’t form a proper perimeter around the couple’s home that evening, and that Lyons was in his motor home in Goleta when he saw five patrol cars lining his street that night.
Sanger acknowledged that Lyons had said he wanted to kill his brother.
“We all know we say things we regret,” he said, but Daniel Lyons “was a bully, and you heard that from witnesses.”
Daniel Lyons wanted to take everything the coupled owned, as well as take additional interest from the family, Sanger said, adding that Corey Lyons and his wife had resigned themselves to working harder, and trying to move on.
Corey Lyons had been threatened that he’d be sent to jail by his brother, and Sanger said that was in his mind as he peered out from his motor home that night.
“He thinks this is it, ‘Dan Lyons has done it,’” Sanger said. “That’s about as nasty as you can get.”
Sanger said Zonen had created a lot of inferences but did not prove the case.
“At the end of the day, we don’t know what happened,” he said. “None of you can really say what happened. We have to rely on the evidence.”
Sanger will continue his arguments Monday.
— Noozhawk staff writers Lara Cooper and Giana Magnoli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.