A Sonoma County jury this afternoon convicted a Sonoma man of killing a woman during a robbery and burglary and setting her house on fire four years ago.The jury returned its verdict during its third day of deliberations, convicting John Michael Wayne, 35, of robbery, burglary, arson, first-degree murder and animal cruelty. He faces life without parole when he is sentenced May 11.Deputy District Attorney Robert Waner claimed Wayne shot 52-year-old April Denton in the neck sometime after 11 p.m. on Jan. 21, 2006, in her Mountain View Avenue home in unincorporated Sonoma County south of Santa Rosa then returned to burn her house around 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 22. Two of Denton’s dogs died in the fire.Wayne’s former co-defendant, Steven King, 29, pleaded guilty to being an accessory and arson. He testified at Wayne’s trial and faces an eight-year prison term as part of a plea agreement when he is sentenced March 19.Waner argued Wayne was addicted to pain pills and on the night of the murder he stole $1,500 and pills containing morphine that Denton illegally sold to supplement her income.The prosecution claimed Wayne and King drove to Denton’s home but King then drove back to his house near Tolay Creek near San Pablo Bay.Wayne then called King and asked him to pick him up, according to the prosecution. Wayne admitted killing Denton and told King they had to burn the house down to conceal the murder, according to the prosecution.Both men siphoned gas into some bottles and returned to Denton’s house. Wayne then went into the house and King drove to a pre-designated spot where he would pick Wayne up, the prosecution said. King took a gun and knife from Wayne and threw them into San Pablo Bay behind his house and Wayne burned his clothes and drove home, according to the prosecution. Wayne’s attorney Marie Case contended King was responsible for the crimes.She told the jury during her closing statement Friday that one of Denton’s neighbors heard a gunshot between 6:30 a.m. and 6:45 a.m. on Jan. 22, 2006. She said Wayne would not have had time to kill Denton at that hour, spread gasoline in the house, start the fire and go to his Sonoma home by 7:04 a.m. where he made several phone calls.A passerby reported the fire at 7:18 a.m. Waner told the jury the fire was set earlier and smoldered slowly for several hours. Case said it was a “fast, active free burn.””The case comes down to the credibility of those who testified and timing,” Case told the jury Friday. She said King, the main witness against Wayne, is “an opportunist and a thief” and others who testified against Wayne were not credible.
“He (King) realized if he cooperated, he could make this work” and avoid a life prison sentence, Case said. Case said the jury gave her argument serious thought. “That’s all you can ask of a jury. They didn’t take it lightly,” she said this afternoon. “Each of us had a compelling argument,” she said.”But it was an all or nothing case. They couldn’t say he (Wayne) did some things and not others,” Case said.Waner was not immediately available for comment on the verdict. Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua said, “Despite a lengthy and complex investigation, I am very pleased that justice has been done in this very tragic case.”
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