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Surprise Trial Confession in Wayne Daughter Attack

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a dramatic turnaround, a Burbank man admitted on the witness stand Thursday that he led the attack on John Wayne’s daughter and her former boyfriend in Newport Beach 19 months ago.

Jerrel Lee Hintergardt, 38, however, denied in Orange County Superior Court that he personally beat up Aissa Wayne. He also denied the prosecution’s claims that the attack was ordered by Wayne’s ex-husband, Dr. Thomas A. Gionis, who was going through a bitter custody fight with her at the time over their 2-year-old daughter. Gionis’ trial on assault charges is scheduled to begin in June.

Hintergardt, who is standing trial on eight felony counts related to the 1988 attack on Wayne and her then-boyfriend, Roger W. Luby, admitted that he and another man held Wayne and Luby at gunpoint, forced them to the ground and handcuffed them. He also admitted that he struck Luby hard enough to knock him down and then slashed his right Achilles’ tendon with a knife.

Hintergardt said he was told by O. Daniel Gal, the private investigator who hired him and his accomplice, that it was Luby who was the target--not Wayne.

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“I never meant for anyone to get hurt,” Hintergardt testified. “But things just got out of control.”

Hintergardt’s admission that he was involved in the attack on Wayne and Luby stunned prosecutors and investigators in the case. Even Hintergardt’s own lawyer, Todd A. Landgren, hadn’t heard the confession until 15 minutes before his client’s trial was scheduled to resume Thursday morning, Landgren said.

“It was certainly a shock,” Landgren said. “I wish he had said this a year ago. He hasn’t left me much time to prepare for this.”

Wayne, 34, and Luby, 54, both took the witness stand during Hintergardt’s trial this week and identified him as the leader of the two men who approached them with guns at Luby’s gated estate in Newport Beach just before noon on Oct. 3, 1988. Both victims testified that it was Hintergardt who smashed their faces into the concrete and said to Wayne at one point: “You’re (messing) with the wrong people.”

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The other gunman, Jeffrey K. Bouey, who is cooperating with authorities, corroborated for jurors virtually every detail of what the victims testified had happened.

Both Bouey and Gal, who also have assault charges pending against them, have implicated Gionis as the client who gave the order that Wayne “be taught a lesson.”

Landgren told the jurors in his opening statement Monday that he would prove Hintergardt was at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles the morning of the attack. He told jurors Hintergardt would testify himself that he was at the hospital that day to have adjustments made on his artificial left foot.

Landgren then spent two days producing witnesses to shore up that alibi.

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But on Wednesday, the defense was dealt a blow when a technician from the Veterans Administration Hospital testified that he was certain that he had worked on Hintergardt’s foot on Oct. 16, not Oct. 3.

Outside the courtroom Thursday, Landgren appeared distressed. At the time he made those arguments to the jury, Landgren said, he believed that he was putting on a credible defense. Landgren said he could not be sure what led Hintergardt to finally admit that he was involved in the attack.

“I think Jerry wanted this to go to trial because he was bothered by what prosecutors were saying,” Landgren said. “They were right about what he had done, but they were wrong about the reasons he had done it. Then, I think he finally realized that his alibi just wasn’t going to hold up and it was time to tell the truth.”

In his testimony, Hintergardt disputed the victims’ version of the attack in only one significant detail: He insisted that he did not strike Wayne or cause her injuries.

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“I never touched Miss Wayne; I did handcuff her,” Hintergardt said. “I don’t think there is ever an excuse for violence against a woman.”

Hintergardt said Bouey must have hurt Wayne when he used a martial arts move to force her to the ground.

Hintergardt, who testified about his past campaigns to eliminate drugs from his neighborhood, told the jury that he did not know who Wayne was at the time. He said that he had been hired by Gal for $3,500 to intimidate Luby on behalf of a client who was upset about Luby’s “drug deals.” He admitted, however, that he had no personal knowledge that Luby was dealing drugs.

Law enforcement officials say they have no indication that Luby was involved in drug dealing.

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Hintergardt said he and Bouey slipped onto the property through the gate when Wayne and Luby returned to the Luby estate by car from a workout at a health club.

Hintergardt said he only meant to intimidate Luby, let him know he would be in jeopardy if he didn’t stop dealing drugs.

“I was delivering a message to him, but he wasn’t taking this seriously,” Hintergardt said. “I see this cocaine dealer, this nothing, and he was being a wise guy. So I hit him.”

Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher J. Evans went on the attack on cross-examination. “You were mad at Luby because he laughed at you, and that’s why you hit him, isn’t that right, sir?” he asked the defendant.

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In his closing argument later, Evans described Hintergardt as a “very, very angry, disturbed person.”

The jury is scheduled to begin deliberations Monday.


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