A state appellate court ruled Tuesday that the survivors of Laverne Duffy, an Oceanside city employee murdered three years ago by a co-worker, should be allowed to seek compensation from the city for her death.
The 4th District Court of Appeal said lower court judges erred in dismissing the relatives’ claim that the city acted negligently when it failed to warn Duffy, a city secretary, that the co-worker, Joseph Henry Larroque, was an ex-convict with a history of sexual assaults.
Larroque was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 35 years to life in prison in the May, 1983, kidnaping and slaying of Duffy, a 32-year-old mother of two.
He had gone to work in Oceanside’s engineering department in 1978, after his parole from state prison, where he served four years for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl. In the mid-1960s, he was confined to a state mental hospital for three years after being convicted of kidnaping and raping his 15-year-old sister-in-law.
According to the lawsuit filed by Duffy’s children, city officials never told her of Larroque’s background. The children sought damages from the city and from the state, which they claimed failed to properly monitor Larroque’s parole.
The Court of Appeal upheld rulings by two San Diego County Superior Court judges that the state had immunity from being sued over its supervision of a parolee.
Moreover, the three-judge appellate panel said it also would have barred a suit against Oceanside if Duffy’s survivors had claimed merely that all female employees should have been warned about Larroque’s criminal history.
A policy requiring such warnings “might have prejudiced any chance he had to lead a normal life,” the court said. “There is a serious danger that a warning will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, stigmatizing the parolee and causing him to be reminded he is not normal.”
But the court noted that Duffy’s links to Larroque were special.
According to her survivors, she had complained to supervisors a month after Larroque was hired that he had sexually harassed her at work. Neither then nor later, when Duffy and Larroque developed a friendly relationship, was she alerted to the ex-convict’s history of deviance, the suit contends.
Under those circumstances, the appellate court ruled, it must be left to a jury to decide if the city was negligent in failing to warn Duffy of Larroque’s past conduct--even though there are “serious questions of causation . . . where the killing takes place some 4 1/2 years after the warning allegedly should have been given.”
Testimony in Larroque’s murder trial established that he lured Duffy out of her office at lunchtime on May 19, 1983, by requesting help with his broken-down car.
Afterward, he kidnapped her and took her to his home, where he stripped, bound and gagged her before returning to work. Duffy strangled when she attempted to slip free of the self-tightening noose Larroque had left around her neck.