Both sides rest in murder trial
By CANDACE RONDEAUX, Times Staff Writer
This is the third trial for the defendant, whose ex-wife is testifying against him.
Published August 13, 2005
TAMPA - She brokered the deal. She found the hitman. She
collected the blood money. But Gail Milligan says she never wanted to
be involved in Thelma Royston's murder, and all she knows is Michael
Mordenti told her he shot Royston in the head.
Milligan, 56, has said a lot of things since her ex-husband was
charged 15 years ago with murdering Royston in an Odessa horse barn.
Milligan said she never dated Larry Royston, the man who paid $17,000
to have his wife killed.
Milligan's old business partner, Jack Gartley, told a different
story Friday when he took the stand in Mordenti's murder trial.
Although Milligan vehemently denied having an affair with Larry
Royston, Gartley said he and a lady friend went on two double dates
with Milligan and the slain woman's husband shortly before Royston was
"They were holding hands, hugging and kissing," Gartley said.
That was several weeks before the June 1989 murder, he said, and
not long after Milligan told Gartley that she'd like to hurt Mordenti -
in a big way.
"She said she'd like to have his knees broke or she'd like to have him murdered," Gartley told jurors Friday.
Hillsborough prosecutor Scott Harmon repeatedly tried to slice
through Gartley's testimony, questioning the 73-year-old's memory.
Unsteady on his feet as he took the witness stand, Gartley grew testy
with the prosecutor during the fifth day of Mordenti's trial. But
Gartley was resolute, saying he was certain Milligan had spent the
night at least once with Larry Royston.
On Wednesday, Milligan testified she understood that the immunity
deal prosecutors granted her for fingering her ex-husband would apply
as long as she told the truth and had never had a romantic relationship
with Royston's husband. When questioned by Mordenti's attorney about
her connection with Larry Royston, she insisted it was platonic.
She also testified that she had approached Gartley and others about
the murder-for-hire scheme before Mordenti finally agreed to do the
deed. She thought Gartley, her former partner in a used car dealership,
could use his old mob connections to arrange the hit.
But Gartley denied knowing anything about the mob. He said he
tipped off police about Larry Royston's involvement several months
after the slain woman's husband told Gartley she was "taking him to the
cleaners" in a divorce and he wanted her dead.
That testimony appeared to undercut the prosecution's game plan,
pointing to another weakness in a case that seemed airtight when
Mordenti was first convicted for the murder. The weapon was never
found, nor did investigators find the person Milligan said accompanied
Mordenti the day of the murder.
In 1991, prosecutors successfully used Milligan's testimony to
convince a jury that Mordenti was the killer. He was sentenced to death
then, but the Florida Supreme Court ordered a new trial in December
after it was revealed that prosecutors withheld crucial evidence. A new
jury deadlocked during Mordenti's second trial in May.
This time prosecutors are not pursuing the death penalty. Both
sides rested their cases Friday. Both sides are expected to give
closing statements Monday.
Candace Rondeaux can be reached at 813 226-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org
[Last modified August 13, 2005, 01:21:17]
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