San Leandro sausage maker Stuart Alexander was convicted Tuesday of three counts of first-degree murder for gunning down three meat inspectors at his family-run linguisa factory, verdicts that could bring the death penalty.
A jury also found Alexander, the self-styled "sausage king," guilty of one count of attempted premeditated murder for trying to gun down a fourth inspector during his rampage at Santos Linguisa Factory.
In a clean sweep for the prosecution, the verdicts also included four findings of special circumstances that make Alexander, 43, eligible for the death penalty. The findings include three of murder of a public official in retaliation for performing his job, and multiple murder.
The verdicts came at the end of a six-month trial in Alameda County Superior Court. Judge Vernon Nakahara ordered the jury to return Monday for the start of the trial's penalty phase, which will focus on whether Alexander should be executed or spend life in prison for the June 21, 2000, slayings.
Alexander did not react, but the verdicts drew gasps and tears from families of the slain inspectors.
"This validates the lives of the victims," said John Quadros, whose brother Tom was cut down by Alexander in what prosecutors called "murder by ambush."
Tom Quadros, 52, was one of two U.S. Department of Agriculture compliance officers killed. The other was Jean Hillery, 56, of Alameda.
Also killed was Bill Shaline, 57, of Sacramento, an inspector for the California Department of Agriculture.
That Alexander shot the inspectors was never in question, thanks primarily to a surveillance camera that captured the slayings in chilling detail in the factory's retail area.
But the defense argued that Alexander committed the killings in a consuming rage and was unable to understand the consequences, thus being incapable of performing the "deliberation" needed to commit first-degree murder.
Trial testimony showed Alexander's anger had been building for months as inspectors took a hard line on Santos Linguisa, which had been run by the defendant's family for 79 years. Five months before the shootings, inspectors found Santos sausage was not being heated adequately during production, leading to concerns about potentially harmful bacteria.
Violations prompted Alexander to shut the factory for a time. But evidence showed he re-opened without correcting problems cited by state and federal regulators.
The day of the murders, the inspectors went to the factory to serve him with notice of more violations, including mislabeling of meat products and shipping uninspected meat across state lines for sale.
According to trial testimony, Alexander felt the violations were unjust, in large part because Santos had been making linguisa for nearly eight decades and never had been linked to consumer health problems.
Michael Ogul, an assistant Alameda County public defender who represents Alexander, said he is hopeful regarding the penalty phase.
"The goal all along has been saving Stuart Alexander's life," Ogul said. "I'm still hopeful we can accomplish that goal."
At trial, Ogul said the inspectors knew Alexander was growing increasingly unstable, "teetering" on the brink of madness, and chose to take action that sent him "over the edge."
It was that line of defense that was hardest for the victims' survivors to take. John Quadros, who attended every day of the six-month trial, said it amounted to a "blame the victim" defense.
"The defense case was about devaluing the lives of the victims and blaming them," he said. "But, thankfully, the jury saw through that. They saw that these three people were performing the very important job of ensuring the safety of the nation's meat supply, and that they were killed for doing their jobs."
Alexander's defense was countered by prosecutors who claimed the defendant spent months mulling a violent response to the crackdown.
Jurors were read several e-mail messages written by Alexander months before the killings that showed he had considered violence. "I'm going to smoke 'em," he wrote to a friend a few months before the slayings. "I'm going to shoot them execution style. Boom. Boom."
"He told several people he was going to do it and waited until he had built up enough courage to act," said Jack Laettner, an assistant U.S. attorney who is prosecuting Alexander along with Paul Hora, a deputy Alameda County District Attorney.
The most damaging trial evidence was the surveillance video taken inside the factory.
After the first gunfire, the video showed Alexander leaving the room for several minutes while he chased the fourth inspector, Earl Willis, who waited outside. The video shows Alexander returning and, upon seeing the three inspectors were still alive, firing at them several more times at point-blank range.