D.A. Will Seek Death in Chain Saw Murder Case

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office announced Thursday that it will seek the death penalty for a 58-year-old Cal State Fresno professor who is accused of shooting and then dismembering with a rented chain saw a young male prostitute.

Max Bernard Franc, a professor of public administration, did not visibly react when Deputy Dist. Atty. Sterling Norris made the announcement in court.

Outside court, Norris cited the “depraved nature of the killing” as “probably the most important aggravating factor” in his office’s decision to seek the death penalty for Franc.

Norris has said he believes Franc killed 18-year-old Tracy Leroy Nute in “a homosexual rage” at an apartment the professor maintained in West Hollywood.


‘More Heinous Than Most’

“Cutting up the body (with) the chain saw, taking limbs off and depositing them in various parts of the state has to be more heinous than most murders,” Norris said, “and certainly just as heinous as many murders for which we seek the death penalty.”

The action by the district attorney’s office was not a surprise, since it had previously alleged “special circumstances” in Nute’s death. Special circumstances carry with them a minimum penalty of life in prison without possibility of parole upon a finding by a jury that they are true.

Thursday’s decision means that, if convicted, a jury would decide if the special circumstances were true and, if so, which penalty--life without possibility of parole or death--was most appropriate for Franc.


Franc is accused of two special circumstances--robbery and committing an “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel” murder--in Nute’s death on Aug. 20.

Allegation Refiled

At the end of a preliminary hearing, a Municipal Court judge dismissed the “especially heinous” special circumstance allegation. However, the district attorney’s office refiled the allegation in Superior Court, where Franc is scheduled to stand trial Jan. 21.

Nute’s head and torso were found along a rural highway in Madera County four days after Franc acknowledged renting a chain saw from a Hollywood store. The victim’s arms and legs were found near the Golden State Freeway in Valencia two days later.


Franc was arrested Aug. 29 after returning the rented chain saw, which was found to contain blood and skin fragments. He has said that he rented the saw on behalf of a “street person” named Terry Adams, who he maintains committed the murder.

Norris has said he does not believe Adams exists.