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Murder Defendant Says Fear of AIDS Prompted Slaying

Times Staff Writer

A gay Laguna Beach man who claims he killed his former roommate in self-defense when the man threatened to give him AIDS said at his trial Tuesday that he was terrified about being infected with the disease.

Dale David Dalton broke into heaving sobs as he testified that during a struggle with the victim, “I was scared to death he was going to bite me and give me AIDS.”

The Jan. 8, 1987, strangulation death of Edward Ihling at his Laguna Beach apartment is only the second case in which Orange County prosecutors have faced an AIDS-related defense in a murder case. A defendant who pleaded guilty earlier this year said he killed his girlfriend because he thought she had given him AIDS.

Dalton was arrested on the day of the slaying at 4 a.m. in front of the home he shared with his then-lover. Dalton claimed that the two of them were on their way to the police station so that Dalton could turn himself in for the strangulation killing of Ihling, 35. Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard M. King, who is seeking a first-degree murder conviction against Dalton, won’t comment directly on the AIDS defense. But in Tuesday’s cross-examination of Dalton before Judge Leonard H. McBride in Superior Court in Santa Ana, the prosecutor’s questions suggested strong skepticism about Dalton’s AIDS defense.

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King accused Dalton, 34, of planning to kill Ihling with a gun, then deciding to strangle the victim with his own shirt when he saw him drunk and passed out on a couch.

King’s cross-examination led to a sharp exchange between prosecutor and defendant in front of the jury. King was asking Dalton whether he was angry with Ihling over a telephone call Ihling had made to Dalton’s boss, during which Ihling called Dalton “a faggot and a drug dealer.”

Free on $125,000 Bail

Dalton said Ihling’s telephone call to his boss upset him so much that he resigned his job two days later, despite assurances from co-workers and superiors that it should not upset him.

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“Mr. King, wouldn’t you be extremely embarrassed if someone called your boss and said those things about you?” Dalton asked him.

“Mr. Dalton,” King answered slowly, “I wouldn’t go out and kill ‘em.”

Dalton, who was a manager of a secretarial-services firm, is free on $125,000 bail posted by six of his friends in the Laguna Beach area, according to his attorney, Jack M. Earley.

Prosecutors do not dispute that Ihling was abusive and had made threatening calls to Dalton and Dalton’s lover, and may have tried to extort money from them.

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Dalton said he first met Ihling in October, 1986, when he answered an ad in a local advertising tabloid for a room for rent. Everything was fine for the first few weeks, he testified, and Ihling “seemed like a nice guy.”

But Dalton said that in late October, Ihling became increasingly drunken and abusive and made sexual passes that Dalton said he had to fend off.

“He would get extremely violent; he would start throwing stuff and screaming,” Dalton testified.

Dalton broke down on the witness stand when he talked about seeing Ihling hire male prostitutes who would tie him to a bed and burn him with cigarettes.

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‘This Man Was Crazy’

“It was just so god-awful, you could smell the flesh burn where they would put cigarette rings on each other; this man was crazy!” Dalton said.

But what scared Dalton most, he said, was that Ihling told him he suffered from AIDS. Dalton said he feared even using his toothbrush or razor for fear Ihling had used them. King confirmed that Ihling had tested positive for the AIDS antibody.

Ihling threatened several times to transmit AIDS to him by biting him, the defendant said.

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“That really scared me,” Dalton said.

Dalton moved out in late November and moved in with his lover of several years, a schoolteacher. But Dalton said Ihling called him constantly, threatening both him and his lover, and demanding money.

Prosecutor King does not disagree that Ihling’s abusive behavior upset Dalton, especially when Ihling called Dalton’s boss. But he points to testimony from some of Dalton’s co-workers that Dalton made threatening statements. One co-worker testified that Dalton told her, “The only way to stop this guy is to kill him.” Dalton told another, “I would like to see him (Ihling) dead.” He also told her, “It’s not fair for someone to get away with this.”

Began Carrying Gun

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Dalton admitted that after Ihling assaulted him a week before the killing, he got a gun he had in storage and began carrying it in his briefcase for protection.

Prosecutors claim Dalton took the gun to Ihling’s home shortly after midnight on Jan. 8, 1987. But when he found Ihling passed out, he decided to strangle him to make less noise.

Dalton told jurors he went over to Ihling’s apartment to pay him money that Ihling had demanded, hoping that would end the harassment. But when he got there, he said, Ihling threatened to tell Dalton’s parents that Dalton had given him AIDS. Dalton said Ihling also threatened to bite him to pass on the disease, and started coming at him.

Dalton said he remembers twisting the shirt around Ihling’s neck in an attempt to keep the man’s teeth away from him.

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