Anthony Sperl remembers the afternoon well: gray and drizzling as dusk set in. He has tried to forget the rest of March 3, 1983.
That night, the Stanton policeman entered Patricia Ann Ridge's apartment, mistook the toy gun her son pointed at him for a real one and fatally shot 5-year-old Patrick Andrew Mason.
"It's like in the middle of something it hits me like a daydream, and then I relive it," Sperl, 27, said a few months ago. "I'm stone broke, I can't find a job . . . . It has ruined my life."
Ridge, 32, also has struggled to rebuild her life since the shooting, working part time until recently for $4 an hour at an auto shop in Chicago.
"It's still very painful for her," said Ridge's attorney, R. Richard Farnell. "She is still having a tough time of it."
On Friday, the separate battles they have waged to put Patrick's death behind them reached at least a partial conclusion with the settlement of Ridge's $20-million wrongful death lawsuit against Sperl and the City of Stanton.
Ridge dropped the suit, and Stanton agreed to pay Ridge $395,000.
"She's glad to have it over with," Farnell said.
"I can go on with my life now," Sperl said happily. "The sky's the limit."
For the mother of the boy and the officer who killed him, the trial would have meant dredging up painful memories of that evening three years ago. Both would have been called to testify.
They have never spoken, written or met. They would have come face to face for the first time in a Santa Ana courtroom.
"She was willing to go to trial," Farnell said of his client, whom he has ordered not to discuss the case, "but she was happy not to have to go through that. . . . She's glad to have it over with."
In separate phone calls from their attorneys just before noon Friday, Ridge and Sperl heard the news.
"It was 11:45 a.m. when (Daniel K.) Spradlin called," said Sperl, who is unemployed and said he passes many days watching television. "I know, because 'Harry-O' was on Channel 13."
Before the shooting, Sperl seemed destined for a bright career in law enforcement. He had a bachelor's degree in political science, a master's degree in corrections and criminal rehabilitation, and had worked for the Los Angeles Probation Department. At the age of 24, he was halfway toward a second master's degree in business administration.
Sperl had graduated third in his police academy class when the City of Stanton recruited him as a police officer in 1982. Former supervisors said the young officer was ambitious and hard-working and had the talent for a promising career.
"He was the picture post card of what a good police officer should be," said former Police Chief Ronald Johnson, who hired Sperl.
"He was extremely bright, and he had an ability to work with people that was fabulous, just incredible," Johnson said.
During a recent interview, Sperl said, "I always knew I was going to be a police officer. I like to help people. I always knew I was going to rise to the top, rise through the ranks, maybe be a police chief or go to the FBI."
'Impossible' to Find Work
In the aftermath of the March, 1983, incident, however, Sperl said publicity about the case made it "impossible" for him to find a job.
He recently applied to McDonald's Corp. for a fast-food job "because after a while you can pick up a franchise," Sperl said. "They sent me a letter saying I wasn't qualified."
Earlier, Sperl worked two days as a bodyguard for Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt's daughter.
Then a Massachusetts manufacturer of anti-ballistics shields "wanted me to be their representative," he said, but the firm had gone out of business when he called back.
Job Search Blocked
Sperl said he also applied to the U.S. Border Patrol--"the lean, green, mean machine is their motto, pretty catchy, eh?"--and to the Los Angeles Police Department for a job as a station officer.
But he said his efforts were blocked because the City of Stanton refused to confirm his previous employment until he dropped his lawsuit against the city. Sperl had alleged fraud and improper training.
Otis Wright, representing Stanton's insurance company, said he told Sperl that unless he dropped his countersuit, "as far as the city is concerned, you don't exist."
Now that the case is over, Sperl said, he plans to take a "well-deserved vacation."
The former officer spent most of Friday on the phone at his parents' West Los Angeles home, accepting congratulations from friends, including several police officers.
One of them was Lloyd O'Callaghan, a former Los Angeles policeman and one of two officers who in 1979 fatally shot Eula Love, a South-Central Los Angeles woman, as she allegedly was preparing to throw an 11-inch kitchen knife at them.
Meanwhile, Ridge, who told those close to her that she forgave Sperl in the months after the shooting, also has had her share of troubles.
The mother, who could not be reached for comment Friday, suffered a bitter setback last winter after she finally saved enough money from a part-time job to replace the flat headstone on Patrick's grave there with a tall monument.
According to her attorney, Richard Farnell, the man Ridge paid to make the monument never delivered it and apparently has disappeared with her money.
For a brief period, Ridge was involved with the child-care movement that was spawned by the shooting, Farnell said, but the tragedy "was just too painful for her. . . . It's been very difficult."
Ridge, who recently took a leave of absence from her job at a Chicago Sears store so she could attend the trial, may move back to California soon, Farnell said, adding: "She's tired of Chicago winters."
Mother accepts settlement in shooting of son. Part I, Page 1