"I don't know what that [word] means."
That was today's answer by admitted hit man Brett Schrauben when asked by veteran public defender Derek Bercher if he'd been "altruistic" in confessing his role in the 1998 Rambo knife murder of Placentia's Jack Jessee.
Apparently, there is no vocabulary section for the test to get an official hit-man license in California.
The feisty Bercher is representing Jessee's wife Sandra, who is on trial as the evil, money-hungry mastermind of the criminal enterprise.
According to Schrauben, Sandra and her son from marriage prior to her union with Jack, Thomas Aehlert, hired him in what turned out to be a gruesome, ambush killing for $50,000.
The kill fee was paid without interest and in installments over several years.
The hit man has admitted that he personally knew the victim was "a nice, kind man" but craved furniture for his apartment, a new pickup truck and a Sea-Doo -- instead of the Merriam-Webster dictionary and patient, special ed tutor he desperately needed.
Schrauben, formerly a big-talking OC Target employee and club promoter who has moved his act to Arizona, served a mere 515 days in local jail in exchange for testifying against the mother-son duo and Mission Viejo's T.J. Garrick, who has never been charged.
Since a 2009 jury thwarted homicide prosecutor Michael F. Murray's case in an 11 to 1 vote for guilt, Aehlert changed his innocent plea, confessed to second-degree murder and testified against his mother in the early days of this new trial. Murray believes that Garrick, a U.S. Navy veteran, is the actual killer with the other defendants playing various supportive roles.
Schrauben's vocabulary woes didn't end with "altruistic." He also didn't know how to answer another Bercher question because it contained the word "afoot."
Jack Jessee was found stabbed to death in his living room in August 1998. Sandra had been shopping at the time of the crime. But Schrauben claims that he was told in advance when she'd be gone so that she'd have an alibi and was told to make the crime look like a robbery gone wrong.
Relentless cold-case investigators in the Orange County Sheriff's Department eventually pieced together the alleged conspiracy and cleverly drove a wedge between the once-tight plotters that produced the bulk of Murray's evidence.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Schrauben--the hit man who walks like a starving penguin who has spotted food--will resume his testimony tomorrow in Superior Court Judge James Stotler's 9th floor Santa Ana courtroom.
Go HERE to read my cover story about the crime, the characters and the first trial.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly
(rscottmoxley at ocweekly dot com)