A relentless, 10-year search by a mother for the outlaw bikers who stomped her son to death and stole his motorcycle culminated Tuesday when a jury found three men guilty of murder.
Michael Allen Hodges, 38; Richard Morris Dollar, 34, and John Michael (Slug) Stelle, 49, were found guilty by a Superior Court jury of the first-degree murder of Gus Henry Hoffman of Los Gatos, who disappeared on July 4, 1978.
The jury, which deliberated for nearly a week, also found that special circumstances necessary to impose the death penalty accompanied the crime--that the murder was committed during the course of robbery, kidnaping and infliction of torture.
But both the prosecution and defense agreed to waive the jury during the penalty phase of the trial, set for Thursday, and Judge Paul Teilh was expected to hand down sentences of life in prison for all three defendants, a court spokesman said.
The arrests came nearly a decade after Hoffman, 20, disappeared. Over the years, his mother had hired private investigators and personally haunted biker bars to chase down leads in the murder.
Rose Hoffman, now 50, persisted in her search to the point of hanging around in the neighborhood of one of the suspects and feeding police bits and pieces of information until Hodges was arrested in his Sunnyvale home in June, 1988. Dollar was charged in his cell at San Quentin Prison, where he was serving time for a parole violation. Stelle, carrying a loaded .38-caliber pistol, was arrested by Contra Costa County sheriff's deputies in December, 1988, at a friend's home in Oakley.
A fourth suspect, Michael Stevenson, was killed in an unrelated shooting in San Joaquin County in 1986.
Prosecutors said Gus Hoffman disappeared while riding his motorcycle in San Jose. The gleaming Harley-Davidson Sportster model, popular among outlaw bikers as well as mainstream motorcyclists, attracted the attention of the suspects, court testimony revealed.
Hoffman was "boxed in by two bikers and a carload of people who escorted him to Stevenson's house," one witness testified. At the house, Hoffman was forced off the motorcycle and murdered by the suspects, according to court testimony.
Hoffman's body has never been found, and that bothers his mother.
"They never found his body," she said after the arrests. "If someone out there could help us find my son, I could put him to rest."