Byline: Shane Scott
SACRAMENTO — The California Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from Gary A. Shawkey, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of 71-year-old Arizona resident Robert Vendrick for financial gain, aboard a boat off Dana Point.
The state’s high court reached the decision Nov. 25, after a September ruling by a three-justice panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeals affirmed Shawkey’s conviction for the 2008 killing.
Shawkey, who has been serving his sentence at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego since July 2011, had contended that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding he killed Vendrick. While he stated the evidence suggested he was a “liar and a thief,” he insisted he was “not a murderer.”
Having thoroughly examined the voluminous record in this case — and having set it forth at great length above, because it is a “no-body murder case” based entirely on circumstantial evidence — the plaintiff found substantial evidence to support the jury’s 2011 verdict, said Orange County Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh.
In 2008, after Shawkey had allegedly bilked Vendrick of thousands of dollars in fruitless promises of massive investment returns for over four years, Shawkey somehow convinced the Phoenix resident to meet him in Dana Point, where they would partner on an unspecified computer services venture with the federal government.
According to the District Attorney’s office, Shawkey instructed Vendrick to open a $100,000 account at Wells Fargo Bank. He also attempted to register a limited liability corporation with an online service with the name “GSRV” — combining Shawkey’s Vendrick’s initials — and stated its purpose was software development.
Vendrick purchased a round-trip airline ticket from Phoenix to California, with a departure set for Feb. 15 and a return on Feb. 18, and made a car reservation for the same period, according to the District Attorney’s office.
Prosecutors said Shawkey purchased a sailboat, Odyssey, in Dana Point from Tom Smith, for $1,000, on Feb. 13. The next day, Smith took Shawkey out on the water to show him how the boat functioned.
On the morning of Feb. 15, before meeting Vendrick, Shawkey went to West Marine and purchased a handheld depth finder, batteries, an 18-pound river anchor, a paint tray and roller, a first aid kit, a 9.9 hp outboard engine and a tool kit, for a total of $2,500, which he paid in cash, prosecutors said.
The next morning, Vendrick met Shawkey at the dock, leaving behind his computer, suitcase and diabetes medication. Vendrick reportedly told his girlfriend, Sharlene Slama, he’d be back later that day, according to prosecutors.
Odyssey set sail at 7:04 a.m. Reportedly, neither Shawkey nor Vendrick knew how to sail, so the boat could only be powered by the 9.9 hp engine that Shawkey had purchased. Going at a top speed of about 5 knots, the men should have arrived in Catalina within five hours and 45 minutes — just after noon, the District Attorney’s office said.
A nautical expert who examined the boat before trial found no issues with the keel of the boat, its rudder, or any other parts of it. Yet the boat didn’t arrive in Avalon Harbor until 5 p.m., nine hours after departure — and then, only Shawkey was aboard.
Prior to his arrival, Shawkey had left a series of voicemails on Vendrick’s cell phone that indicated something was amiss, the District Attorney’s office said. At 11:06 a.m., he left a message informing Vendrick he was halfway to Catalina, and that he hoped Vendrick had made it on the Catalina Express ferry. Around 2:30 p.m., Shawkey left two more messages, one stating that there was an issue with Odyssey’s keel and that there would be a delay, and the other giving Vendrick a location in Avalon to meet him that evening, with Slama. At 4:01 p.m. and 4:52 p.m., Shawkey left messages asking why Vendrick had not called him back, and asking him “what’s going on?”
The next day, Shawkey would leave several more messages alluding to the idea that Vendrick abandoned him with thousands of dollars and a plan for Shawkey to take him and Slama to Mexico. By Feb. 18, Shawkey was back in Long Beach, where he spent the next few days unsuccessfully attempting to access the $100,000 from Vendrick’s Wells Fargo Bank account, prosecutors said.
After initially having Odyssey searched, police could find no trace of Vendrick’s DNA. Shawkey dodged detectives for months with trips to Florida and Mexico, where he promised to find Vendrick.
Shawkey was arrested on unrelated charges in Virginia, and extradited to California, where he was charged with murder for financial gain with special circumstances and grand theft. Prosecutors believed that Shawkey, a much larger man than Vendrick, used a mushroom anchor he had bought (and failed to mention to police upon initial interrogation), in disposing of Vendrick’s body overboard.