Lucas Sentenced to Die for 3 Slashing Murders

Times Staff Writer

David Allen Lucas, convicted of the throat-slashing murders of three people and three other brutal crimes, was sentenced to death Tuesday at a hearing marked by emotional pleas for justice from the families of the victims as well as Lucas’ lawyers.

Lucas, 34, a carpet cleaner from Spring Valley, showed no emotion as San Diego Superior Court Judge Laura Palmer Hammes imposed the sentence for the three murder counts, ending one of the longest-running criminal cases in San Diego history. Lucas was arrested nearly five years ago.

There was nothing in the eight-month trial “to support sympathy or mercy for (Lucas) in light of the crimes,” Hammes said, confirming the sentence a San Diego Superior Court jury had recommended Aug. 2. The jury found Lucas guilty June 21 of the three murders as well as one charge of attempted murder and two of kidnaping.

Passionate Plea

Lucas’ lawyers, Steven E. Feldman and Alex L. Landon, had implored Hammes to impose a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the three murders.

In a passionate plea during which he closed his eyes, clenched his fists and rocked back and forth on his heels, Feldman said that, while Hammes had the legal authority to impose death, she did not have the “moral authority” to do so.


“I urge you again to seek the high road,” Feldman said.

“Mr. Feldman, I believe I am taking the high road or I would not be taking this road,” Hammes said. She ordered that Lucas be sent to Death Row at San Quentin within 10 days.

After hearing from a number of victims’ relatives, the judge appeared to blink back tears and her voice quavered as she imposed a complex additional sentence on Lucas for the three other charges.

Hammes ordered that, if Lucas’ death sentence should somehow be converted to life in prison with the chance for parole, Lucas was to first serve 17 years in prison, then do three consecutive terms of 26 years to life, Deputy Dist. Atty. George W. Clarke said after reviewing the terms.

‘Extreme Danger to Society’

Hammes said the terms she imposed were the maximum she could direct. “Mr. Lucas poses an extreme danger to society and under no circumstances should he be free to prey again upon others,” she said.

In urging a maximum sentence, Jodie Santiago Robertson, the victim of an attempted murder in June, 1984, told Hammes of the “terror, fear and frustration” she had endured. Lucas was a “dangerous person who should not enjoy life as others can,” she said.

Michael Jacobs, whose wife, Suzanne, 31, and 3-year-old son, Colin, were killed in 1979 in their Normal Heights home, broke down in tears as he said he “just wanted to stand here and tell Suzie and Colin that I love them. And someday I’ll meet with them, too.”

John Swanke said his family was “ravaged and violated” after his daughter, Anne Catherine Swanke, 22, a University of San Diego student, “a gentle soul who loved people, loved life, loved God,” was killed in November, 1984.

“It is not vengeance that leads me to thank this court for accepting the recommendation of the jury,” Swanke said. “No, it is to protect present and future citizens from the outrage of such a criminal.”

Lucas did not look at any of the speakers as they took to a lectern during the two-hour hearing. He did not offer any statement in his defense, either, although Feldman said Lucas wanted to convey “heartfelt deepest sympathies” and “true remorse” to the victims’ families.

The jury convicted Lucas of first-degree murder in the May 4, 1979, killings of Suzanne and Colin Jacobs as well as the Nov. 20, 1984, death of Swanke.

Jacobs and her son were found in their home with their throats slashed.

Swanke’s throat also was slashed. Her body was found on a remote hillside in Spring Valley.

Jurors also convicted Lucas of the June 8, 1984, attempted murder of Robertson, 34, of Seattle. She survived an attack in which she was choked and her throat slashed.

Lucas also was convicted of kidnaping Robertson, who testified for the prosecution at the trial, and of kidnaping Swanke.

Lucas’ mother, Patricia Katzenmaier of Santee, said Tuesday she was convinced her son did not receive a fair trial. There was “so much evidence, so much proof” Lucas was innocent, she said.

Defense lawyers initially tried to prove that another man--Kentucky drifter Johnny Massingale--was guilty of the Jacobs slayings.

Details of Crime Scene

Massingale, who confessed to the Jacobs killings but later recanted, was jailed for 10 months, then released after Lucas was arrested. Defense lawyers contended when the trial opened in January that Massingale’s confession revealed details about the crime scene that only the killer would know.

Defense lawyers also said in January 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.

Lucas was acquitted in the death of Gayle Roberta Garcia, 29, a Point Loma realtor who was found with her throat slashed in a vacant Spring Valley house on Dec. 8, 1981.

Jurors were unable to reach a verdict in the deaths of Rhonda Strang, 24, and Amber Fisher, 3, both of Lakeside. Strang was baby-sitting the child when their throats were slashed Oct. 23, 1984. The jury reported after four or five votes that it was deadlocked, 11-1, for conviction.

Prosecutors said Tuesday they are considering retrying Lucas on those charges. A date for a new trial, if prosecutors opt to go ahead, will be set at a hearing next Monday, Hammes ordered.

Before imposing sentence Tuesday, Hammes denied a request filed by Landon and Feldman for a new trial on the six charges for which Lucas was convicted. She said there was no merit to their challenges to rulings she had made on various kinds of evidence and to allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.

Trial Ran 56 Days

Lucas was arrested in December, 1984. Jury selection began last August but the panel was not selected until Jan. 3, when the trial began. It ran for 56 days.

Jury deliberations, both during the guilt and penalty phases, were also marked by length. The jury’s June 21 convictions came after eight days of deliberations.

The jury’s subsequent decision to impose the death penalty came after another 12 days of deliberations.

Alternate juror Dan Grabianowski, 32, of Escondido, a telephone repairman, said he ran into Lucas last Saturday while working on the wires at the county jail, and they chatted momentarily.

“I hold no hatred or anything toward Mr. Lucas, but it seems the punishment is fitting to the crimes,” Grabianowski said.

Feldman and Lucas also had asked Hammes to permit new jury deliberations on Lucas’ sentence, alleging prosecutorial misconduct and improper rulings by the judge.

Hammes also denied those requests.