2 Sought in Deaths of Pizza Workers Arrested in
By David Freed - Los Angeles Times
December 26, 1985
A couple suspected of killing a pizza deliveryman
in Glendale and of earlier gunning down two employees of the same
restaurant chain in South Carolina were arrested without incident
early Wednesday by police detectives in Las Vegas.
Tipped by a citizen who recognized the pair's
photographs from news reports, detectives arrested Mitchell Carlton
Sims, 25, and Ruby Padgett, 20, shortly before 2 a.m. at the Stevens
Motel and Apartments on Las Vegas' northern fringes.
When police knocked on the couple's door, Sims made
no attempt to hide his identity, even though he had checked into the
motel Dec. 11 under the name of "Jeff Richardson," according to Carrie
Miller, assistant manager of the motel.
Miller said Sims calmly announced to police, "I'm
Mitchell Carlton Sims."
Then, Miller said, Sims turned around and placed
his hands behind his back without being asked so that officers could
Inside the motel room, police said, they found a
Sims and Padgett were charged by the Los Angeles
County district attorney's office with murder and robbery after the
Dec. 10 slaying of Domino's Pizza deliveryman John Steven Harrigan,
21, whose body was found in a room at the Regal Lodge in downtown
Glendale. Police believe the pair lured Harrigan to their room, robbed
and killed him and then went to the pizza restaurant in Glendale.
There, they allegedly stole $2,000 and left two employees bound hand
Las Vegas police had been on the lookout for the
pair since Saturday, when a red pickup truck stolen from Harrigan was
found outside a casino.
Sims and Padgett also were wanted in connection
with the Dec. 3 shooting deaths of two employees at a Domino's
restaurant in Hanahan, S.C., where Sims once worked.
Authorities in both Hanahan and Glendale said
Wednesday that they plan to extradite the couple, should they refuse
to return to South Carolina and California.
It was not immediately clear which state would have
first claim on them. However, Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Thate said
Wednesday that the state that files its extradition request first
stands the best chance of bringing the couple to trial first.
The California filings against Sims and Padgett
include three allegations of special circumstances--torture, lying in
wait and murder during a robbery--which mean the couple could face the
death penalty if convicted.
United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit. -
425 F.3d 560
Mitchell Carlton Sims, Petitioner-appellant, v.
Jill Brown, Warden,* Respondent-appellee
Sims had managed a Domino's Pizza parlor in West Columbia, South
Carolina before resigning when he got angry at his boss for
withholding part of a bonus. Sims sought revenge, and told his then-girlfriend
that he wanted to use explosives to kill the boss. He bought a gun. On
November 15, 1985, Sims was hired as a delivery driver by another
Domino's, in Hanahan, South Carolina.
On December 8, 1985, Sims and Padgett ended up in Glendale,
California. They went to a Domino's and asked Kory Spiroff, the
assistant manager, for directions to a drugstore. On the afternoon of
the next day, a man and woman went to a Sears store in Glendale and
bought a package of socks, underwear, a clothesline, and a knife. The
sales clerk overheard the woman tell the man to relax because they
would be leaving the store shortly.
On the evening of December 9, Spiroff was on duty with delivery
drivers Edward Sicam and John Harrigan. Each had on a Domino's uniform,
consisting of short-sleeved shirts with a Domino's badge and name tag.
At 11:03 p.m., Brian Scarlett, an off-duty Domino's employee who was
visiting Spiroff, took a telephone order from a man with a southern
accent. The caller asked for the pizza to be delivered to Room 205 of
the Regalodge Motel. The motel was a three-minute drive from the
parlor. Harrigan, who was twenty-one years old, left the parlor at
11:26 p.m. in his Toyota truck to make the delivery.
Around 11:45 p.m., Sims and Padgett went into the Domino's. Spiroff
recognized the couple from the day before. This time, Sims pointed a
gun at Sicam and ordered Spiroff and Sicam into a back office. When
Spiroff warned Sims that a delivery driver was due back at any moment,
Sims took off his sweater to reveal a Domino's shirt with Harrigan's
name tag and chuckled, "No, I don't think so."
Sims found a bank deposit bag which he gave to Padgett, who then
emptied the parlor's cash drawers. Sims told her to watch for
fingerprints, and she began wiping the tables and cash drawers at his
direction. Sims ordered Spiroff and Sicam to stand in the corner of
the office and aimed his gun directly at them.
At this point, Richard Wagner, an off-duty Domino's employee, arrived
at the parlor with his wife. Sims told Spiroff to go to the front
counter, threatening to shoot Sicam unless Spiroff cooperated. Instead
of acknowledging Wagner as a friend, Spiroff asked him for his order.
Meanwhile, Sims took an order over the phone, identifying himself as "Mitch"
to the customer. While Spiroff prepared the pizzas, Sims told the
Wagners to wait in the car for their pizza to be brought to them.
After Sims gave the Wagners their pizza, they drove off and,
suspecting a burglary, called the police.
Sims decided to take Spiroff and Sicam, one at a time, into the walk-in
cooler. The cooler was 8 feet by 12 feet, with a 3-tier rack against
the left wall. The temperature was kept at 32 to 40 degrees. Sims tied
Spiroff's hands tightly behind his back with one end of a rope, looped
the other end over the rack, and lifted Spiroff's arms painfully high
by pulling down on the rope. This forced Spiroff to stand on his
tiptoes to ease the tension in the rope and alleviate the pain. When
Spiroff complained, Sims replied, "Shut up. At least you live." Next,
Sims wrapped the end of the rope around Spiroff's neck and tied it so
tightly with a knot in back of the neck that Spiroff would strangle if
he stopped standing on his tiptoes. Sims asked Spiroff when the cooler
would be opened the following day. Spiroff said at 11 a.m. Sims
replied that, by then, he and Padgett would be in San Francisco. When
Spiroff asked Sims about Harrigan, Sims said that Harrigan had been
tied up at the motel and would be found after Spiroff was found.
Sims then brought Sicam into the cooler and bound him in the same
manner as Spiroff. When Sicam said he was choking, Sims responded, "You
are alive." Sims closed the cooler and left at 12:15 a.m. with Padgett.
While standing on the toes of one foot, Spiroff tried to knock over
cartons so they could stand on them and relieve some of the pressure
around the neck, but the rope tightened as he moved. Eventually he
succeeded in knocking a box over. Nevertheless, at some point Spiroff
Responding to Wagner's call, Glendale police officers arrived at 12:30
a.m. They found Spiroff and Sicam in the cooler. One of them told the
officers that their assailant was wearing Harrigan's shirt and that
Harrigan had not returned from delivering a pizza to the Regalodge.
The officers went to the Regalodge, got the key and registration card
to room 205, which was registered to Sims, and found Harrigan's dead
body in the bathtub. The bathtub was full of water, and Harrigan's
body was submerged under the water on his right side with his back
parallel to the side of the tub. Cold water was running at full blast
onto the back of Harrigan's neck. His head was immediately under the
spout, about one inch below the water line. The drain plug was broken,
but the tub was filled with water up to the overflow valve. Harrigan's
wrists were bound behind his back; his ankles were bound; and his feet
and hands were "hogtied" together behind his back. His head was
covered with a pillow case, which was secured with a rope ligature
around the neck. A washcloth had been placed inside his mouth, held in
place by a sock tied around his head.
Dr. Joseph Cogan, the state's forensic pathologist, who performed the
autopsy on Harrigan's body, determined that the cause of death was
ligature strangulation based on the depth of the furrow around the
decedent's neck, indicating the extreme pressure of the ligature
around the neck, and hemorrhages on the inner eyelids, indicating that
Harrigan was alive when the neck ligature was applied because it
obstructed blood flow to the head and brain. Cogan opined that
Harrigan lived for no more than ten minutes after the neck ligature
was applied and that the ligature in itself was enough to kill
Harrigan. However, Cogan could not rule out the possibility that
drowning contributed to Harrigan's death, based upon Harrigan's having
been found fully submerged in a bathtub of water with a gag in his
mouth, and the presence of frothy pulmonary edema in his trachea and
No money, wallet, or car keys belonging to Harrigan were found in the
room. The phone lines had been cut. Although the room had been wiped
clean with a wet towel, Sims's fingerprints were found inside a toilet
paper roll and in a telephone book on the page listing "pizza." The
knots used to tie up the ligatures on Harrigan's neck were identical
to those used to tie up Spiroff and Sicam. The rope used to bind
Harrigan, Spiroff, and Sicam was similar to the clothes line sold to
the young couple at the Glendale Sears the day before Harrigan's
Sims and Padgett were apprehended in a Las Vegas motel on December 25
by the Las Vegas police acting on an anonymous tip. A fully loaded .25
caliber pistol was found under the mattress. The police also recovered
a Los Angeles Times article entitled, "Delivery Man Slain While Making
Run," and a yellow page torn from a Las Vegas telephone book listing
Domino's Pizza establishments. Harrigan's pickup truck, with a
Domino's shirt bearing Harrigan's name tag inside, was also found in
Las Vegas about twenty miles from the motel.
Sims was taken to the Clark County jail. Officers Jonathan Perkins and
Gary Montecuollo of the Glendale Police Department met with him in an
interview room. Informed of his rights pursuant to Miranda,
Sims acknowledged his understanding and signed a written form
indicating that he did not waive his rights. As Perkins gathered his
papers and stood up to leave, Sims asked what was going to happen to
him from that point on, and indicated that he would like to go to
South Carolina rather than California. During the conversation that
followed, Sims told Perkins, "I had to kill that boy" and "He would
have identified me." At the end of the interview, Perkins told Sims
that Sims would have to initiate any further conversation about the
investigation, which Sims did the next day. Perkins tape recorded this
interview, which included Sims's statement "I just got drunk, and I
didn't know what the fuck I was . . . I knew I was doing it, but I
shouldn't have done it." After Perkins readvised Sims of his
Miranda rights, Sims said that he had worked for Domino's Pizza in
South Carolina and that he and Padgett had traveled by bus from that
state to Glendale where they rented room 205 at the Regalodge. He told
Perkins they had gone to Domino's for directions to a drugstore, and
to Sears to buy a knife. He said that the next day they returned to
Domino's for a pizza. At that point Sims ended the interview.
Sims's December 25 statements and an edited version of the tape of the
December 26 interview were admitted in the guilt phase.
Sims did not testify. His forensic pathologist, Dr. Robert Bucklin,
testified that the white, frothy material in Harrigan's larynx and
trachea indicated that he had drowned, and that the furrow and
hemorrhages could have resulted from the posture of Harrigan's head
rather than asphyxia. Bucklin also testified that strangulation might
have contributed to Harrigan's death. Stephen Schliebe, a private
criminalist, testified that a piece of rope tied as the ligature was
to Harrigan's neck would not cause loss of consciousness. Sims's
theory of defense was that Harrigan was alive when Sims put him in the
bathtub and left with Padgett, and that he lacked the intent to kill
Harrigan, Spiroff, or Sicam.
The jury found Sims guilty of one count of first degree murder, with
two special circumstances findings (that Sims committed the murder
while lying in wait and during the commission of a robbery), two
counts of attempted murder, and three counts of robbery. The jury also
found that Sims used a firearm during the commission of each offense.
At the penalty phase the prosecution introduced evidence that Sims
robbed and shot to death two Domino's Pizza employees in Hanahan,
South Carolina less than one week before the Glendale crimes. Just
after 2 a.m. on December 4, approximately two weeks after Sims was
hired as a delivery driver at the Hanahan Domino's, Gary Melkie, the
assistant manager, appeared in the lobby of the Police Department
about three blocks away, dressed in his uniform with a telephone cord
dangling from one of his wrists and bleeding profusely from gunshot
wounds to his head and neck. A paramedic responded and Melkie was
placed in an ambulance. En route to the hospital, the ambulance
detoured to the parlor where another shooting had been reported. There,
the police had found Chris Zerr, a delivery driver, lying on the floor
covered with blood, his hands tied behind his back with a telephone
cord. He died shortly thereafter from a gunshot wound to the head.
$1,164 had been taken from the cash drawers.
At the hospital, the paramedic asked Melkie who had shot him and
Melkie responded, "Sims. Mitch Sims." Melkie said that Sims had tied
him up and then shot Zerr. Melkie repeated the same thing to a police
officer, including a description of Sims, and said that Sims worked
for Domino's. Melkie died after surgery.
Melkie had suffered four gunshot wounds to the head and neck, a bullet
casing was removed from his tongue, and a fifth bullet, which had
exited from his head, was recovered from a wall at the parlor.
An unedited version of the tape recording of Sims's December 26
statement to Perkins was admitted into evidence and played for the
jury. In that portion of the statement, Sims recounted that he had
robbed a Domino's Pizza parlor in South Carolina before going to
The defense presented as mitigating evidence a number of witnesses who
testified about Sims's brutal family background of physical, sexual,
and emotional abuse. His mother, Mildred, testified that Sims only saw
his natural father (from whom she was divorced) on two or three
occasions during his childhood, and that she married Arnold Cranford
in 1961. She had three children with her first husband and two with
Cranford. Cranford had a drinking problem and became violent and
sexually abusive when intoxicated. She testified that Cranford raped
Sims when he was seven years old, and forced Sims to engage in oral
sex with him over the years. When Sims was sixteen, Cranford made him
have sexual intercourse with his mother. They both cried during the
incident. On another occasion, Cranford forced Sims to have
intercourse with his older sister Merlon. Cranford repeatedly told
Sims that Sims was "no good" and a bad person. Sims began drinking
heavily at fourteen, and attempted suicide by drowning when he was an
Merlon testified to repeated incidents of physical and sexual abuse
that she and the other children suffered at the hands of Cranford. She
said that every night was a nightmare, and that "[i]t ain't never
going to leave me alone." Cranford would drag her out of bed, force
her to strip, and then beat her, tie her to a bed, fondle her, and
occasionally have sexual intercourse with her. Cranford brought men
home and forced her to have sex with them. She also attempted suicide
several times. Cranford threatened to kill the children if they told
anyone about what he did. When Sims was sixteen, Cranford forced
Sims's younger stepsister, Margaret, to undress and lie beside him in
bed. He began to fondle her and told her he was going to have sex with
her, but Sims called the police. Cranford was arrested and convicted.
Sims's brother Eddie also testified. He watched as Cranford forced
Sims to have sex with Cranford on many occasions. He heard Cranford
having sex with Margaret in the next room. Eddie also tried to commit
suicide, and he said that Sims tried to lift up his spirits. Sims's
other siblings did not testify, but there was evidence that Margaret
ran away from home and began taking drugs, and that his brother Jimmy
was a career army officer.
Sims's wife, Theresa, had known Sims since she was nine, and she, too,
had experienced an abusive childhood. They were married when Sims was
twenty and she was sixteen. They had three children, who worship Sims
and live for his phone calls and letters. She testified about various
jobs that Sims had held, and said that he became withdrawn and
depressed whenever he was promoted at work, that he engaged in
extensive substance abuse, and that he suffered a sense of
worthlessness and guilt from the incestuous act he committed with his
mother. While he was working at Domino's, Sims had an affair with a co-worker
but came back to Theresa. He left Theresa again when he met Padgett.
Sims told Theresa he was no good for her and did not want to pull her,
and the boys, down with him. At her urging, he saw a counselor and
cried as he recounted the abuse he had suffered. Sims's mother, sister
and stepbrother, as well as his wife, testified that Sims was
sensitive and continued to be a good, supportive father to his three
Dr. William Vicary, a psychiatrist, testified that Sims suffered from
chronic depression, and alcohol and drug abuse. He stated that Sims
had long-standing feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, despair,
shame, and humiliation. Vicary explained that individuals who have
suffered a lot of verbal and physical abuse tend to be crippled from a
psychological point of view and have trouble later in life, becoming
violent, abusive adults. On cross-examination Vicary admitted that
Sims had never been diagnosed as mentally ill, and that his depression
was not severe.
At the conclusion of the penalty phase, the jury fixed the punishment