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Wife Acquitted in Husband's Death

San Bernardino man was killed in '87 near Sun City. Woman was found innocent of arranging the murder.

October 3, 1997

SOURCE: By Mike Kataoka The Press-Enterprise

Ten years after a San Bernardino man was shot to death near Sun City, his wife was acquitted Thursday of arranging the murder.

Wanda June Jowers, 62, tearfully embraced her lawyer, Virginia Blumenthal, upon hearing the verdict finding her not guilty of first-degree murder.

The Yucca Valley woman, accompanied by her second husband, declined comment, but Blumenthal said Jowers is "very relieved."

Jurors said outside of court they had strong suspicions but not enough solid evidence that Jowers was responsible for the murder of Clarence Rufus Jowers carried out by two men.

The 63-year-old victim was killed by two shotgun blasts in April 1987, and his body was found along Antelope Road, just east of Interstate 215.

The slaying went unsolved until May 1992 when an informant told authorities that Ricky Dean Lawrence had bragged about killing Clarence Jowers, Lawrence's former employer at a Fontana trucking company.

That led to the arrests of Lawrence, 37, of Mira Loma, and Jerome Leroy Moore, 45, of Jurupa, who also worked for Clarence Jowers.

Prosecutors theorized that Lawrence, accompanied by Moore, shot Jowers in a plot Wanda Jowers instigated to collect $300,000 in life insurance money and gain control of her husband's Jowanda Trucking Co.

Clarence Jowers was lured to the isolated area near Sun City on the pretense of earning quick cash by selling two vehicles to men he would meet there.

Blumenthal argued to jurors that Wanda Jowers was upset at her husband and may even have made comments about wanting him dead because of her anger, but she never arranged his contract killing as alleged.

It was Moore's idea to kill Clarence Jowers because Moore was in a position to run the trucking company with his boss out of the way, Blumenthal said. She further suggested that while Lawrence apparently fired the first shot, Moore fired the second shot to assure Clarence Jowers' death.

Jury forewoman Shelly Palomaki of Corona said she was ready to convict Jowers when deliberations began a week ago today, but she soon changed her mind as the jury reviewed the evidence.

"We think she was guilty, but there was not enough evidence," she said.

On any ballot taken by the eight-woman, four-man jury, no more than three members voted to convict Jowers, Palomaki said.

She said jurors found much of the evidence pointed to Moore as the mastermind and Lawrence as his dupe.

In January 1993, Lawrence pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to prison for 25 years to life. At the same time, Moore, who denied firing the shotgun, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 15 years to life.

Under the plea bargain, both defendants avoided a potential no-parole life sentence or even the death penalty by agreeing to testify against Wanda Jowers.

But it took another four years to bring her case to trial.

Supervising Deputy District Attorney Kevin Ruddy said the age of the case and credibility problems with Moore and Lawrence hampered the prosecution.

A series of personnel changes in the district attorney's office caused the case to get shifted to different prosecutors over the years, Ruddy said.

Because Jowers was free without bail, other murder cases with defendants in custody received higher priority for trial, which also accounted for some of the delay.

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