The Supreme Court Monday ordered a new trial for a man convicted in the frenzied "Halloween II" murders of an elderly Fullerton couple in 1982.
The justices let stand a March ruling by the California Supreme Court concluding that police had flagrantly violated the rights of Richard Delmer Boyer to gain a confession to the stabbing murders of Aileen and Francis Harbitz.
The case was dubbed the "Halloween II" murder because Boyer, though admitting the crime, blamed his actions on a drug-induced "flashback" to a gruesome stabbing scene in the horror movie. Unpersuaded, an Orange County jury convicted him of first-degree murder in 1984, and Boyer, 31, was later sentenced to death.
Though Monday's decision means that Boyer's taped confession may not be used during a new trial set for March, prosecutors say they still have a strong case against him.
They can use the testimony of a man who drove Boyer to the Harbitz residence, as well as physical evidence obtained during the investigation. Police said bloodied clothes and a knife were found at Boyer's El Monte home. The man who said he drove Boyer also charged that Boyer threw one of the victims' wallets out of the vehicle and onto the San Gabriel River Freeway and led police to the wallet.
Glenda Harbitz, the victims' daughter-in-law, said that she and her husband, William, were upset with the decision. The worst part, she said, is that they have to go through a new trial.
"When a man's guilty, he's guilty," she said. "It shouldn't be years, years, years. This is outrageous.
"Bringing up all this old stuff isn't good for the mind or heart," she said. " . . . It's not fair. It's not fair to bring up that hurt."
The March ruling from the California Supreme Court was considered a surprise because three law-and-order appointees of Gov. George Deukmejian joined a 5-2 majority to overturn Boyer's conviction and vacate his death sentence. The state court concluded that Fullerton Police Department officers had illegally arrested Boyer and then had questioned him after he asked to have a lawyer present.
On Dec. 14, 1982, a week after the murders, police learned that Boyer had done yard work for the Harbitz family and had borrowed money from them.
Though lacking a warrant or "probable cause" to arrest Boyer, four officers went to Boyer's El Monte home and picked him up for questioning. The officers said they asked the suspect to come in for questioning, and he came voluntarily.
The state court disagreed. It pointed out that the two officers had guns drawn and told Boyer to "freeze" when he tried to go out the back door. The police conduct "suggested they did not intend to take no for an answer," state Supreme Court Justice David N. Eagleson wrote.
At the station house in Fullerton, tapes suggest that the detectives aggressively questioned Boyer for more than an hour and told him--falsely--that they had enough evidence to convict him. At several points in the taped conversation, they also ignored his requests to have a lawyer. Under the Miranda rule and subsequent Supreme Court decisions, police must stop interrogating a suspect who asks for a lawyer until one is provided.
Fullerton detectives later said they had stopped questioning Boyer and were about to send him home when the man blurted out his confession.
"You're right. I can't live with it," Boyer shouted out to Detective Richard Lewis. "I did it. I didn't mean to do it. But I did it."
Appealing to the Supreme Court, attorneys for the state contended that Boyer's "spontaneous outburst" should not be suppressed because it occurred well after the police questioning had ended. The justices considered the appeal during several closed-doors conferences, but on Monday denied it without comment. (California vs. Boyer, 89-40.)
Steven Garrett, a San Francisco lawyer who represented Boyer in the appeal, said the high court was correct. "It was clear they kept him in custody without cause and ignored his requests for a lawyer," Garrett said.
A new trial is scheduled to begin on March 13 in Orange County Superior Court.
James G. Merwin, who represented Boyer in his trial and will represent him again in March, said the decision came as no surprise.
"Naturally, I'm delighted," he said." . . . It doesn't surprise me that it would come out this way. Had this been a Rose Bird decision, they probably would have taken a closer look at it. But this was from a conservative court."
Fullerton Police Chief Philip Goehring said the high court's decision won't change any policies in the department.
"In no way did we feel that our investigators were out of the bounds of the law," he said. " . . . We saw this as a voluntary action on (Boyer's) part and not intimidative. I suggest that procedures don't have to be changed. The court saw it differently."
Goehring also said the decision does not change the department's view of Boyer's guilt. "We believe the man guilty of the crime," he declared, adding:
"My personal philosophy is that the Almighty will settle the score on Judgment Day."