Man Who Told Writer He Killed Wife Is Ordered to Trial

Times Staff Writer

An Anaheim Hills man was bound over for trial Friday after his lawyers failed to keep out of evidence his admission to a newspaper columnist that he fatally shot his wife in their home.

Prosecutors introduced the admissions of David Lee Schoenecker, 48, but not through the columnist, Bob Emmers of the Orange County Register.

Instead, they put on the witness stand a deputy sheriff who overheard the conversation between Emmers and Schoenecker shortly after Schoenecker’s arrest in a mountain area of Mineral County, Mont., a week after the May 6 shooting.

Municipal Judge John W. McOwen ordered the statements admitted. After a one-day preliminary hearing in Fullerton Municipal Court, the judge ordered Schoenecker to stand trial for murder in the May 6 shooting death of his 40-year-old wife, Gail, a teacher at Adelaide Price Elementary School who was found dead in the bedroom of their home.

Schoenecker faces a possible death penalty if convicted. Prosecutors contend Schoenecker was “lying in wait"--a special circumstance that permits capital punishment--by waiting until his wife was asleep before shooting her.


Deputy Sheriff James Gottfried from Superior, Mont., testified Friday that he heard Schoenecker admit to Emmers that he shot his wife just after midnight. Gottfried admitted, however, that he had not written his report on the conversation until after reading Emmers’ column to jog his memory about all that was said.

Emmers took the witness stand but refused, under orders from his newspaper’s attorney, to say anything beyond what had been published under his byline.

Schoenecker, an unemployed chemical engineer, had written to Emmers, in a letter with a Montana postmark and received by the columnist on May 11, that he had shot his wife and compiled a list of 54 other people who “will be punished.” The names on the list were acquaintances and relatives in the Milwaukee area where Schoenecker once lived.

Anaheim detectives acknowledged on the witness stand Friday that they questioned Schoenecker even though he invoked his right not to talk without a lawyer present.

One of the officers testified it was a tactic the police often use. The other officer said he did it in case Schoenecker had an accomplice and might still intend to kill people on the list. Schoenecker answered several questions after the officers told him it would all be “off the record.”

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Melvin L. Jensen did not use statements Schoenecker made to the Anaheim officers. The prosecutor relied on what Gottfried had overheard.

Deputy Public Defender Carol E. Lavacot argued to the court that Gottfried, in Schoenecker’s mind, was a police officer so anything he said in front of him after invoking his right not to talk could not be used against him. “He still thought he was off the record even when he was talking to Mr. Emmers,” she argued.

Lavacot was asked by a reporter later if Schoenecker wasn’t aware that Emmers would be publishing statements he made.

“No,” she said. “He thought Mr. Emmers came there just as a friend.”

Schoenecker, who is being held without bail, is scheduled to be arraigned in Superior Court on Sept. 14.

Public Defender Ronald Y. Butler, who is leading Schoenecker’s defense, said after court Friday that “we will obviously have a mental competency defense.”

Lavacot said later that Schoenecker “cries and cries” when he discusses his wife. “He really misses her,” Lavacot said.