Murder Defendant Who Feared AIDS Wins Acquittal
A Superior Court jury on Wednesday acquitted a 34-year-old man who claimed he acted in self-defense when he strangled his gay former roommate because the victim had threatened to infect him with AIDS.
Dale David Dalton lowered his head on the defendant’s table when the jury announced its verdict after three days of deliberation. Once outside the Santa Ana courtroom, Dalton told reporters he intends to try to put the trial behind him and get on with his life.
“I’ll start over again. I’m just glad this whole thing is over,” he said.
Dalton was accused of killing Edward Otto Ihling, 35, of Laguna Beach in December, 1986. The defendant had met the victim several months earlier, when he answered an ad in a local advertising tabloid for a room for rent.
After he moved in, Dalton said, Ihling became increasingly drunken and abusive and made sexual passes that Dalton said he had to fend off. Dalton testified that he feared contracting acquired immune deficiency syndrome when Ihling lunged at him during a fight and threatened to bite him. Ihling had AIDS, according to testimony.
Dalton is gay, his attorney said in the trial, but he did not have a sexual relationship with Ihling. Dalton moved out several weeks before the fight during which Dalton strangled Ihling with a shirt.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard M. King said he was disappointed by the verdict but respected the jurors’ decision. Immediately after the verdict, King left the courtroom with Ihling’s parents, whom he described as “emotionally upset.” The parents had traveled to California from their home in Kalamazoo, Mich., to attend the trial.
“I disagree with the verdict,” King said Wednesday. “We felt it was a clear case of premeditation. But they listened to the facts in the case and came to a different interpretation of the facts than I.”
During the lengthy deliberation, jurors held heated and passionate discussions on elements of the case, but finally arrived at a consensus that Dalton had acted in self-defense, according to one juror interviewed Wednesday.
“It was quite trying in deliberation,” said juror William N. Schaich. “But the final consensus was that it was self-defense and the prosecutor didn’t prove that it wasn’t. That left a doubt in our minds, a reasonable doubt that grew and we had to agree it was self-defense.”
Schaich, a retired production supervisor from Westminster, said jurors believed that Ihling had become a belligerent person who provoked the fatal fight with Dalton.
During the trial, Ihling was depicted by the defense as unconcerned about whether he exposed anyone else to the fatal AIDS virus.
During a drunk-driving arrest, Ihling had admitted to police that he had AIDS, according to testimony. Medical testimony at Dalton’s preliminary hearing also showed that Ihling suffered lesions that were consistent with AIDS. Witnesses testified during the trial that Ihling made no secret of the fact that he had been diagnosed as having the disease.
After the verdict, defense attorney Jack M. Earley said jurors told him they believed that his client would not have committed such a violent act unless provoked.
“Seven of the jurors and myself and my client had lunch after the hearing was over,” Earley said. “The main thing that got across to them, they said, was Dalton’s character. We had Dalton’s ex-employers and other witnesses who spoke highly of him as an even-tempered, honest individual.”
Dalton, who has been on an unpaid leave of absence as a supervisor for an Orange County temporary help firm, said he may return if “they want me.”
‘Feel Absolutely Wonderful’
Dalton decided to leave the firm after Ihling telephoned Dalton’s boss and called Dalton a “faggot and a drug dealer.”
“Ever since that time, I haven’t worked and it’s been about two years now,” Dalton said in a telephone interview. “I haven’t been able to plan my life. But now, I feel absolutely wonderful. I’m just glad that jurors believed in me, that they believed in what I said during the trial, especially because the deputy district attorney had said I was lying through my teeth.”
Dalton said he intends to rest for a few weeks and may travel to Ohio to visit his parents.
Dalton was portrayed by prosecutors as an intelligent person and a convincing liar who was capable of committing premeditated murder. King had told jurors that the fact that Ihling may have had AIDS had nothing to do with the murder case.