The district attorney’s office has decided there was no basis for filing a murder charge against a retired state narcotics officer suspected of shooting his spouse to death in their San Juan Capistrano home in 1990.
The decision not to prosecute was reached after months of investigation into allegations that Robert R. Clarke killed his wife, Yvonne, with a .45-caliber pistol in an attempt to end an unhappy marriage and collect insurance money.
Yvonne Clarke, 42, was shot once in the back of her head at close range on Oct. 28, 1990, as she worked inside her small home office.
Her husband maintained that his pistol unexpectedly discharged while he was cleaning it on a cocktail table a few feet away.
An initial investigation by the Sheriff’s Department concluded that the shooting was accidental, but the Orange County Grand Jury ordered the case reopened in December, 1992, at the request of the dead woman’s parents, Robert and Viola Grisanti of San Gabriel in Los Angeles County.
Among other things, the Grisantis presented the grand jury with evidence of marital discord, Robert Clarke’s history of psychological problems, and what appeared to be an earlier attempt by Robert Clarke to strangle his wife.
They also charged that sheriff’s deputies did a poor job of handling the case and were more interested in protecting a fellow police officer than finding out the facts surrounding the shooting.
Last week, prosecutors met to discuss the findings of the new investigation and decided there is not enough evidence to file a murder charge against Clarke, 48, who took a stress retirement from the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement several years ago. The grand jury notified the Grisantis of the decision by letter shortly before the Fourth of July weekend.
“Unfortunately, sufficient evidence that could be produced in court to prosecute Mr. Clarke does not exist at this time,” wrote Claire A. Duffie, who heads the grand jury’s criminal justice committee.
Neither Clarke nor his attorney, David Thurber, could be reached for comment Tuesday.
Despite the district attorney’s decision not to proceed with a criminal case, the Grisantis say they are undeterred in their 2 1/2-year effort to find out what happened to their daughter the day she was shot. A civil lawsuit the Grisantis filed against Clarke is pending, and the family has vowed to take the matter to other state and federal law enforcement agencies.
“This is not a conclusion as far as we are concerned,” said Robert Grisanti. “I think the grand jury’s hands were tied. They were fair to us, and we respect them a lot. But we feel the district attorney did not really do anything. We thought they were just going through the motions.”
In 1991, the Grisantis made their first appeal to the district attorney’s office, which reviewed the investigative reports of the Sheriff’s Department and concluded, then as now, that there was insufficient evidence to support a murder charge.
That same year, county officials rejected the family’s claim for $10 million in damages on the basis that an internal probe indicated that the Sheriff’s Department was not negligent in handling the original homicide investigation.