An unsympathetic Los Angeles Superior Court judge Wednesday ordered the Night Stalker trial to resume on Monday, denying defense lawyer Daniel V. Hernandez’s request for several weeks off to recuperate from nervous exhaustion.
Judge Michael A. Tynan said it is not unusual for lawyers and judges to find a death penalty case stressful.
“Some of us have chest pains, some of us have bellyaches, but the point is that we all suffer stress in these cases,” Tynan said, adding pointedly: “Some do it (react) better than others.”
Tynan said he could find “no legal cause” to further delay the case.
The judge, who has presided over the serial-murder trial since it began Jan. 30, also ordered a second defense lawyer, Arturo Hernandez, to begin appearing in court, starting next week. Arturo Hernandez, 35, has rarely appeared in court since jury selection commenced in July.
Outside the courtroom afterward, Daniel Hernandez called Tynan’s order “unbelievable,” but he said he would comply, as did Arturo Hernandez. The two San Jose-based attorneys are not related.
On Monday, Daniel Hernandez’s physician in San Jose sent Tynan a letter saying that Hernandez was “not presently capable of functioning as a trial attorney” and that he needed four to six weeks off.
The general-practice physician, who was not publicly identified, said Hernandez has complained of late-night perspiration, heartburn, numbness in the hands, shortness of breath, chest pains and dizziness. But the only objective finding during a full physical examination was moderately elevated blood sugar levels, according to the doctor.
Hernandez pleaded in court Wednesday for two to three weeks off. He said the time would allow him to recuperate and begin a diet and exercise regimen under the supervision of a stress therapist.
Hernandez, 44, also said he would use that time to continue searching for an additional attorney to help defend accused Night Stalker Richard Ramirez. Since summer, Hernandez has met with numerous private defense lawyers in Northern and Southern California, seeking their participation in the trial, but to no avail.
When Hernandez finished, lead prosecutor Phil Halpin, who has fought against any delay in the trial, told Tynan: “I’d like to have a month off on the Riviera myself.”
Halpin noted that the prospect of a lengthy delay--and possibly a mistrial--have caused numerous witnesses and surviving Night Stalker victims to call him in anguish.
“People are getting pretty disgusted,” said the Los Angeles County deputy district attorney.
“Perhaps no less so than the court,” Tynan replied.
The judge noted that Hernandez already has had two weeks off because of his condition. “I wish you well in San Jose,” Tynan said.
Despite Tynan’s rulings on Wednesday, Halpin said outside court that he remains concerned about a relapse by Hernandez. “I believe it’s going to happen again,” the prosecutor said. Until the trial is over, Halpin added, “the potential of a mistrial will remain with us.”
Ramirez, a 29-year-old drifter from El Paso, Tex., is charged with 13 murders and 30 other felonies in a terrifying spree of night-time residential attacks in 1984-85. If convicted, he could receive the death penalty.