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Victims’ Families Launch Judicial Reform Initiative

Times Staff Writer

Sharon Tate’s mother was there, almost 20 years after the fact. So was the family of famed car racing promoter Mickey Thompson and his wife, Trudy, who were slain one year ago to the day. So were John and Patsy Gillis; only their daughter’s murder never became a media sensation.

These survivors-turned-activists, joined by friends and prosecutors, Thursday observed the anniversary of the still-unsolved Thompson slayings by launching an initiative campaign to reform a justice system they consider unjust, molasses-slow and overprotective of the criminal suspects.

“Our fond hope today is that very soon the killers will be caught and brought to justice,” Danny Thompson, Mickey’s son, said during a press conference at Rose Hills Memorial Park near Whittier. “Now we are preparing for that day.”

Despite two frustrating political forays last year, soldiers in California’s victims’ rights movement expressed confidence--thanks, in part, to the criminals.

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“The movement is making progress,” explained retired Los Angeles Police Lt. John Gillis, whose daughter, Louarana, was killed by a gang member in 1979. “We’ve got more victims. That’s really what it amounts to.”

The reform effort--dubbed “M.O.V.E. to Rescue Justice,” with M.O.V.E. signifying “Memory of Victims Everywhere"--proposes a 13-point plan intended to quicken trials and increase penalties in some crimes.

More than 600,000 signatures of qualified registered voters must be gathered to place the initiative on the 1990 ballot.

Sharon Tate’s mother, Doris, predicted success, saying that with the help of a National Enquirer article, she has netted 352,000 signatures opposing the paroles of various Charles Manson family members since 1984. Actress Tate and eight others were brutally slain in a monthlong murder spree in 1969.

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Prosecutors representing Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Kern counties participated in the press conference. They included several who were active in the successful 1986 campaign to oust California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird.

Much of the initiative would, in effect, overturn several procedural rulings by the Bird court, prosecutors said.

“Our system has become a monument of technicalities,” complained Anthony Rackauckas, a former Orange County deputy district attorney and an author of the measure.

For crime victims, said Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. James P. Cloninger, “one of the most agonizing things about their sojourn through the criminal justice system is having to wait. And wait and wait and wait.”

Major felonies in California often take two years to come to trial, the prosecutors said, while in other states and in the federal courts, six months is thought to be unusually long.

To speed up trials, the measure would require that hearings and trials be set within specified time limits, that court-appointed defense attorneys be required to prepare cases and that judges be given greater control of the jury selection process. It would also allow two or more offenses charged against one defendant be tried as one case.

The measure would generally toughen penalties for murderers--including providing a life-without-parole sentence for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder with “special circumstances.”

Such a conviction for adults is penalized by death.

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It would also require that defense attorneys, who now are guaranteed to review evidence against the defendant, likewise reveal the defense witnesses’ identities and statements to the prosecution before trial.

Such “reciprocal discovery” is required in federal court, prosecutors said.

Last year, Rackauckas said, a legislative effort to make such reforms became bottled up in committees. The measures, he said, were opposed by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown and Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti, as well as by lobbying from the defense lawyers groups. An initiative effort was abandoned shortly after it began.

This time, however, the movement is better organized. “We’ll go all the way,” said Collene Thompson Campbell, a leader of the initiative effort.

Campbell is Mickey Thompson’s sister, but she became active years before her brother and sister-in-law were slain in the driveway of their Bradbury Estates home.

In 1982, her son, Scott Campbell, was murdered. Two men were later convicted of throwing him off an airplane near Santa Catalina Island. His body was never found, and a funeral has never been held.

Now one of the men is out of prison, she said, his conviction overturned on appeal. He is awaiting a new trial.


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