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Car jack and a base key evidence in Atwater murder trial

MERCED -- A killer who battered two Atwater girls to death in a fit of rage -- or an innocent man on trial for murder, based on inconsistent testimony, shoddy work by law enforcement and insufficient evidence?

Those are the two theories facing six men and six women who will decide the fate of Robert Thompson, charged with murdering Jodi Ragsdale, 12, and Sheila Carter, 15, in 1986.

Attorneys presented their closing arguments Monday, leaving jurors with the job of deciding whether Thompson, 42, is the man who bludgeoned the girls to death with a car jack.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Moranda painted Thompson as a frequent methamphetamine user who killed Carter and Ragsdale during "a month of rage." "With your verdict of guilty, you can set the truth straight after 21 years."

In contrast, defense attorney Randy Thomas said none of the evidence in the case points to his client -- arguing that investigators could not even provide consistent testimony about the alleged murder weapon.

"I'm not telling you he's a good guy by any stretch of the imagination. I wouldn't want to live next door to him. But I can tell you this -- he didn't kill those two girls," Thomas insisted.

'Who drove both of those cars?'

Moranda launched his arguments by focusing on the weapon: a car jack found in a 1965 Mercury Comet that allegedly belonged to Thompson -- and had blood with Carter's DNA on it. Moranda said investigators found another clue in the car's trunk -- the base to another car jack discovered in a red 1978 Chevy Malibu, which Thompson had borrowed from a friend. Thompson allegedly was driving that car when he saw Carter and Ragsdale in the parking lot of Bellevue Bowl on the day they were killed.

Someone intentionally switched the car jacks, Moranda said, arguing that the weapon originally came from the Malibu that Thompson was driving on Dec. 13, 1986. Moranda referred to the car jack as a "2,000-pound gorilla" that cannot be explained by the defense.

"Who drove both of those cars on Dec. 13, 1986? Only one person I have heard about, and that's the defendant, Bobby Thompson," Moranda said.

Moranda, who said he did not know the motive for the killings, also praised Thompson's ex-girlfriend Becky Tilton. Tilton claims she saw Thompson come through a bedroom window with blood on his hands, face and clothes the day of the killings. Moranda added that Tilton's testimony was corroborated by other witnesses. "She didn't want to be here, ladies and gentlemen, but she did so, and she's courageous for doing so," Moranda said.

Defense: Nothing was found

Moranda also referred to the testimony of a woman Thompson was convicted of kidnapping less than two weeks after the girls' deaths. Thompson allegedly admitted to the woman during the kidnapping that he had killed two girls.

The prosecutor crowned his arguments by holding two large portraits of Ragsdale and Carter, both smiling, taken "before the defendant took a jack and bashed their heads in. Justice delayed should not be justice denied," Moranda asserted.

Thomas unfolded his defense by pointing out that there's no DNA evidence from Thompson anywhere on the car jack, contending that prosecutors have failed to produce any scientific evidence that directly implicates his client.

"There isn't any blood, any DNA, any fingerprints -- nothing from Mr. Thompson in this case," Thomas said.

He also referred to earlier witness testimony that indicated Department of Justice investigators, who raided the mobile home in which Thompson was living, failed to find even "a speck" of blood evidence, despite Tilton's testimony.

"This case has to be proven upon its facts," Thomas concluded. "There is no way on the face of this Earth that you can have an abiding conviction that Mr. Thompson committed this crime."

Thompson, who faces life behind bars if convicted, remains in Merced County Jail without bail.

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