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Jury Finds ’78 Killer of San Clemente Officer Too Dangerous to Release

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Times Staff Writer

An Orange County Superior Court jury deliberated only seven minutes Wednesday before finding that a man who admitted killing a San Clemente police officer 10 years ago while suffering from “delusions of paranoia” is still too dangerous to be released from a state mental hospital.

Following the verdict, Superior Court Judge Richard J. Beacom ordered James Richard Hoffer, 33, remanded to custody of Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, Deputy Dist. Atty. Gregg Prickett said.

Hoffer was committed first to Atascadero State Hospital near San Luis Obispo, then Patton after the slaying of Officer Richard Steed, 30, on Nov. 29, 1978.

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The jury’s verdict came after a three-day sanity hearing in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana. Hoffer had sought the hearing to prove that he is no longer a threat to society and should now be released from prison, Prickett said.

Although Hoffer has admitted suffering from paranoid delusions and even believed that “Russians and demons” had implanted a soul-destroying device inside his body, he testified this week that he has not experienced any such delusions for at least two years, Prickett said.

Hoffer did, however, tell the jury that he has become a white supremacist while in the state hospital system and that he now supported racial segregation policies such as South Africa’s apartheid because he is convinced that minorities are the downfall of America.

The 12-member jury that Hoffer was addressing included two members of ethnic minorities: a Latino and a Vietnamese.

The jury also heard testimony from a court-appointed psychologist that Hoffer was no longer dangerous. Prickett, however, presented three doctors who all testified that Hoffer remained a threat to society.

Additionally, staff members at Patton State Hospital testified that Hoffer continues to suffer from delusions, Prickett said.

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Hoffer, who reacted without emotion to the jury’s verdict, is entitled to petition the court for another sanity hearing in a year. This week’s hearing was his first since a Superior Court judge ordered him committed to Atascadero in 1981, after finding him not guilty of the officer’s slaying by reason of insanity. Hoffer originally had pleaded guilty to a first-degree murder charge. He was transferred to Patton in 1985.

Steed--a two-year veteran of the San Clemente force--was fatally shot by Hoffer after Hoffer requested emergency medical aid for a self-inflicted cut, according to Prickett. When the officer pulled up in an alley behind a downtown hotel where Hoffer had been staying, Hoffer drew a .38-caliber pistol and shot the officer through the heart.

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