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Woman, 72, Testifies Neighbor Killed 2 in Back-Yard Shooting

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

An elderly Burbank woman told a jury in chilling detail Thursday how she was wounded in the shoulder and two of her best friends fatally shot by a neighbor who slipped into the back yard where they were chatting over drinks.

The testimony came during the first day of the murder trial of Thomas Paul Humenik, 27, who went on the shooting rampage within an hour of being convicted of misdemeanor battery for striking the husband of one of the victims as he pruned a rosebush.

The prosecution, portraying the shooting as a cold-blooded act of revenge against those he thought had wronged him, is seeking the death penalty.

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In opening statements Thursday in Pasadena Superior Court, Humenik’s attorney portrayed the defendant as a “nerd” who simply “lost it.”

Deputy Dist. Atty. Carol Rash on Thursday called the two surviving victims to testify.

Both said they heard Humenik yelling: “Why did you do it. I’m going to kill you all. I told you not to do it,” as he fired countless rounds with a semiautomatic rifle through a patio screen, then pursued his victims into the house.

Geraldine Correll, 72, said she and the three other women were sitting on chairs in the screened patio when Humenik burst into the back yard with a rifle.

“All of a sudden, I heard all these gunshots coming through the screen,” Correll said. “I saw Tom Humenik in the yard with his rifle aimed at the screen.”

Correll said she next “felt a terrible piercing pain in my shoulder.” Then she saw her close friend, Sheila Young, then 45, lying beside her “with bullet wounds in the small of her back.”

The two other women ran into the house, followed by Humenik, Correll testified.

“I heard so many rapid successions of bullets I couldn’t count them.”

One of the women, Elfrieda Brauchle, then 48, escaped with only minor injuries. But the owner of the house, Merle Boyd, was shot nine times and was dead when paramedics arrived.

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Correll said she crawled under a picnic table for cover and heard Young appeal to her, “Please call 911.”

After about a minute, she went inside the house and called 911. Young died later in surgery.

Correll and others in the audience broke into muffled sobs as Rash played a recording of the 911 call in which Correll told the operator, “He shot me and he shot my friend and he shot Merle. I don’t know if he shot Ellen (Brauchle).”

Merle Boyd’s husband, Don Boyd, who was on his way home during the shooting, testified that he had taken a friend home after the trial.

Boyd said he had been a substitute father for Humenik, a mechanic who lived with his mother and brother in the house for nearly 20 years. He testified that his wife had also befriended Humenik and had been opposed to his pressing charges over the rosebush incident because she didn’t want him to have a criminal record.

In her opening statement, Rash described the defendant as a “coldblooded killer who shot two women in the back.” She said his “motive was retribution, retaliation, vengeance.”

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Public defender Paul Enright conceded that his client was guilty of “criminal homicide,” and characterized his actions as “inexcusable.” However, he said it was not “really a retribution or vengeance type of killing.”

“I’m simply trying to explain what happened and to some extent, it’s inexplicable,” he said. “Tom Humenik, the nerd, is being made fun of. He lost it. He just lost it.”

Enright indicated he will try to show that Humenik was in a “wild” state after being found guilty of battery, a crime he did not believe he committed.

On the way home from court, “he started crying,” and said, ‘Mom, it isn’t fair. I just didn’t hit Mr. Boyd.”’

At home, Enright said, “he walked into the kitchen and heard what sounded like a party. They had some drinks in the back yard.”

In cross-examination, Enright tried to show that the victims had been discussing Boyd’s victory in the battery case in the patio, where Humenik could hear them from the house next door.

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Both Brauchle and Correll denied that they had discussed the case on the patio. Enright, however, read testimony from Correll’s preliminary hearing in which she said they had discussed it “just a few minutes on the patio.”

Correll said she did not remember saying that.

Though Enright said the neighbors had done “nothing wrong,” he suggested that the appearance of gloating may have touched Humenik off.

“Why did this happen?” he asked. “I don’t know. You don’t go and shoot four people simply because the judge gave you a fine.”

But Enright said vengeance couldn’t be the motive because none of the victims had been involved in the case against Humenik.

Shortly after the shooting, others in the neighborhood said relations between Humenik and his neighbors had soured over a petition that several residents signed complaining that he was constantly repairing cars in front of his house.

However, Judge Thomas W. Stoever ruled that testimony on the prior dispute was inadmissible on the grounds that it was remote and prejudicial.

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The trial resumes today. Rash said she expects to complete her case by the end of next week.

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