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Lucas Trial Begins; Faces Charges in Six Slayings

Times Staff Writer

Long delayed by an arduous jury selection process and numerous evidentiary hearings, the Superior Court trial of David Allen Lucas began Tuesday--four years after the former Spring Valley carpet cleaner was arrested and accused in a string of brutal slayings between 1979 and 1984.

In an hourlong opening statement, prosecutors revealed nothing new but told jurors that physical evidence and testimony from one victim who survived an attack will link Lucas to “the most vicious and cold-blooded murders San Diego County has ever had to suffer.”

Lawyers representing Lucas pledged in their opening remarks to prove that their client is as much a victim as the six women and two toddlers whose throats he allegedly slashed. During a 90-minute preview of their case, the defense attorneys blamed another man for two of the slayings and sought to pump holes in testimony and other prosecution evidence said to implicate Lucas in four other killings.

“I believe when you hear all the evidence in this case and evaluate it objectively, you will find David Lucas is not guilty of these charges,” attorney Alex Landon told the 12 jurors and six alternates hearing the case.

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Could Face Death Penalty

Lucas, 33, was arrested Dec. 16, 1984, at his home in Spring Valley. He is charged with six counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and two counts of kidnaping. If convicted of the murder charges, Lucas could face the death penalty. His trial, before Superior Court Judge Laura Palmer Hammes, is expected to last six months.

The courtroom was packed for the trial’s long-awaited launching Tuesday, with relatives of Lucas and his alleged victims watching intently as opening arguments and testimony from four prosecution witnesses unfolded.

Lucas, a tall blond with an athletic build who operated his own carpet cleaning business at the time of his arrest, sat motionless throughout much of the day, occasionally jotting notes and conferring with his two attorneys. When jurors filed out for court recesses, he stood and smiled.

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Deputy Dist. Atty. Daniel Williams, who is prosecuting the case with assistance from Deputy Dist. Atty. George Clarke, used his opening statement to provide jurors with a chronological overview of the six murders and one attempted murder Lucas is charged with committing.

In a solemn tone, Williams began his remarks by reciting the grim details of the throat wound that the seven victims shared--"a massive incision to the upper neck, which extended in depth to the neck bone.” The murder victims’ throats were slashed with such force, investigators have said, that they were nearly decapitated.

According to the prosecution’s version, Lucas struck first on May 4, 1979, killing Suzanne Camille Jacobs, 31, and her son Colin, 3, in the family’s Normal Heights home. Williams said one neighbor spotted a sports car--similar to one driven by Lucas--in the Jacobs’ driveway that morning, while another noticed a blond man in the front yard.

“Mr. (Michael) Jacobs came home that afternoon and found his wife and son . . . with their necks cut, their necks slashed,” Williams said. “There was a massive amount of blood.”

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Scouring the scene for clues, police found two key pieces of evidence, Williams said--a bloody boot print and a note, bearing the words “Love Insurance” and a telephone number, on a rug in the bathroom.

The boot print, Williams argued, “matches in every detail the type of sole” on a pair of boots Lucas allegedly had purchased a month earlier. As for the note, an analysis showed the handwriting matched that of Lucas, who purchased a Love Insurance policy soon after the slayings, Williams said.

Other Slayings

The next murder Lucas is charged with committing occurred Dec. 8, 1981, when real estate agent Gayle Garcia, 29, was found slain in a Spring Valley home she was scheduled to show to prospective buyers that day. Prosecutors said evidence will show Lucas had been searching the classified ads for a new home in Spring Valley at the time of the Garcia killing and that he was missing from work the afternoon the agent was killed.

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On June 7, 1984, Jodie Santiago Robertson of Seattle was kidnaped while walking to her brother’s house from an El Cajon restaurant about 10 p.m. At Lucas’ preliminary hearing, Robertson identified him as the man who abducted her at knifepoint, drove her to a house, and choked her until she lost consciousness. Robertson does not recall what happened next, but she was found the next day beside a rural road, half-naked and with her throat slashed.

On Tuesday, Williams said Lucas sold his sports car and bought a pickup truck two days after the press disclosed that Robertson had been attacked but survived.

Lucas also is charged with three additional murders--those of Rhonda Strang, 24; Amber Fisher, 3, a girl Strang was baby-sitting, and Anne Catherine Swanke, a 22-year-old University of San Diego student, who was abducted when her car ran out of gas late at night.

Composite Sketch

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It was not until after Swanke’s death on Nov. 20, 1984, that attention began to focus on Lucas. Police sensed a pattern in the attack on Robertson and the killings of Strang, Swanke and Fisher, and released a composite sketch of the assailant based on Robertson’s description.

Defense attorneys said Tuesday that a “frantic search” for the killer--based in part on a reward posted by Swanke’s family and pressure to solve the crimes--led authorities to wrongly accuse Lucas.

Particularly egregious, attorney Steven Temko argued, are the charges involving the deaths of Suzanne and Colin Jacobs--whose murders another man, Johnny Massingale, had confessed to committing. Massingale, an illiterate Kentucky drifter, was initially arrested as a prime suspect in the Jacobs killings after an Alabama man told a Texas Ranger that he had met a man who claimed to have “damn near decapitated” two people in San Diego.

Massingale confessed to the slayings during an interrogation. But three weeks after Lucas was arrested, the drifter was released when prosecutors conceded that they had reservations about his guilt all along and concluded that his statements were coerced.

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On Tuesday, Temko argued that Massingale indicated in his confession that he knew things only the killer could know--such as details of the crime scene and the nature of the wounds.

As for the other deaths, the defense team argued that sloppy police work--resulting in the disappearance of a fingerprint found on the Love Insurance note and a mix-up involving fingernail clippings from Swanke--may have caused the loss of evidence that might have exonerated Lucas.

Temko also suggested that Garcia’s boyfriend--who was killed last year--was a strong suspect in her death. And Strang, he argued, had obtained a restraining order against her husband--who allegedly was dealing narcotics--not long before she was killed.

Landon concluded the defense presentation by raising doubts about the credibility of Robertson, the strongest witness the prosecution has in its case against Lucas. Noting that Robertson has been diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress syndrome, Landon argued that she has “a need for resolution” and “the need to find the person who did this to her.”

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