County will pay $450 an hour for doctor to testify in gruesome 1981 murder retri
For 44.44 hours of service, forensic pathologist Dr. Thomas Resk will receive $20,000. Resk will review the autopsy, evaluate the evidence and testify as to the victim’s cause of death. District Attorney Bob Burns said the pathologist’s testimony is critical in obtaining a second conviction.
In 2005, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Silva’s conviction and ordered the prosecution to retry or re-sentence him. Silva, 54, was convicted of the abduction, robbery and murder of Ridgecrest resident Kevin Thorpe 24 years ago in Madeline.
Silva, Joe Shelton and Norman Thomas kidnapped Thorpe and his girlfriend, Laura Craig, college students who passed through Madeline on their way to Oregon returning from winter break, according to the district court decision authored by Judge B. Fletcher.
Silva and Shelton killed Thorpe by inflicting multiple gunshot wounds from an automatic weapon, according to Fletcher’s decision. Thomas then dismembered Thorpe's body with an ax (purportedly on Silva's orders) and stuffed the remains into several trash bags, which were each buried in shallow graves.
Craig was shot twice and killed by the side of a road. Thomas informed police of the murders later that month after he was found in possession of a firearm in violation of his probation.
The appeals court overturned Silva’s original death-penalty conviction because the prosecution did not inform the defense of a an agreement to delay a mental evaluation of Thomas, the chief witness for the prosecution, until after the original trial.
Burns said the forensic pathologist who did the original autopsy has died.
“Actually the rate we’re getting is, I don’t want to minimize, but you go to the Bay Area and you’re looking at $650 an hour,” Burns said. “In fact, of the three people that I checked out basically, in anticipation of this, they all want full rate, portal to portal, coming to court and back; $450 was the lowest.”
Burns told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Jan. 9, “I foresee a trial date being established for probably late summer. That’s a guesstimate at best.”
District 4 Supervisor Brian Dahle, who is now board chairman, asked how much of a risk to the public it would present if Burns did not retry Silva.
“Are you asking me whether Mr. Silva is still capable of killing if he hits the street? That was my determination when I decided to try this case,” Burns said.
“What’s the probability of him getting out?” asked District 1 Supervisor Bob Pyle.
“He stands convicted of other life crimes for which he would be eligible for parole,” Burns said. “In fact, if I announced to the court that I choose not to retry him for the homicide that he is still facing, he would become immediately eligible for parole on those charges … the ones he still is convicted of.”
Burns said Silva still owes federal courts some prison time. The DA estimated Silva would be out of prison by the time he is 60.
“But Charles Manson is eligible for parole,” Dahle said. “That doesn’t mean that they’re going to get paroled.”
“Are you inclined to leave this decision in the hands of Board of Parole hearing commissioners who are political appointees and, perhaps, let them make the determination?” Burns asked. “I personally am not.”
He added the pathologist’s bill will not be the last cost he will bring before the board.
“I have witnesses in this case who are spread out across the country,” Burns said.
Pyle said he gets “a lot of questions from my constituents asking why are we continually spending money on this case and I just need the answers.”
The board unanimously voted to approve the contract with Resk.
Dahle voted “Aye, but I’m not happy about it.”
The state budget has a fund to repay counties for homicide trial expenses, “But there was not an appropriation made,” Burns said, so there’s no money in the fund.
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