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Suit Goes to Trial in Murder, Rape by ITT Security Guards

Times Staff Writer

Eighteen-year-old Kim Molineaux survived for two days by eating berries and licking moisture from leaves as she crawled five miles out of a wooded ravine after being raped, robbed and stabbed by three attackers at an abandoned ITT research facility in the Sylmar hills. Her companion, Daniel Harris, 16, had been beaten to death in the November, 1981, attack.

All three attackers were caught and convicted in 1983 of first-degree murder as well as multiple counts of rape, robbery and assault, and were sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Because two of the three killers were working as security guards for ITT, Harris’ family and Molineaux are suing the company. In a trial that opened Wednesday in Van Nuys Superior Court, they will try to prove ITT was negligent both in hiring the men and in allowing poor security.

Approached by Guards

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According to criminal trial testimony, Molineaux and Harris, while parked on a bluff near the ITT property, were approached by security guards Steven Romero and James Dominik, who was off duty. The two youths were informed that they were trespassing and were told to follow Dominik and Romero, who was driving an ITT van.

Once on ITT property, the men forced Molineaux into a basement, where they and Clifton Shedelbower, a friend of Dominik, repeatedly raped her. They then drove the couple down a canyon road and one of them struck Harris in the throat with a metal pipe. Molineaux also was struck but broke free and slipped down the hillside. As Harris lay dying, Molineaux’s attackers caught up with her, repeatedly stabbing her before leaving her to die.

Before she was rescued two days later, Molineaux recalled during the criminal trial, she used branches and dirt to protect herself from the near-freezing canyon temperatures.

$8 Million Sought

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About a year before the three men were convicted, attorneys for Molineaux and Harris’ parents, Neil and Roberta Harris, filed the civil suit. The attorneys, Melvin Belli, David Sabih and Daniel Dunbar, are asking $8 million in damages from ITT.

During opening arguments Wednesday, Sabih charged that both Dominik and Shedelbower had been drinking before the incident and were under the influence of “black beauties,” a street term for powerful amphetamines. Similar allegations were made by the prosecution during the criminal trial.

Sabih also said that an ITT telescope on the premises enabled the attackers to spot the couple. When Romero and Dominik approached the youths, the guards flashed their ITT badges, Sabih said. “Kim and Danny believed that ITT people were asking them to come onto ITT property. They were doing what they were told,” he said.

Government Clearance

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Attorney Dunbar told jurors that both Romero and Dominik had been granted a government clearance to work at the ITT site, and “should have had the maturity and responsibility” that goes along with such a clearance.

ITT attorney James M. Baratta told jurors that Romero had been a high school honor student, an Explorer Scout and had been nominated to attend West Point military academy.

Baratta contended “there was no conceivable way that ITT could have foreseen that this kind of activity could have taken place.”

Judge Robert M. Letteau has ruled that the trial will be divided into two phases. The jury must first decide whether ITT was at fault in allowing the incidents to take place. If it finds the corporation liable, the jury will hear additional arguments to determine the amount of damages.

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