Ex-Marine Charged in ‘70s Killings
Prosecutors filed murder charges Friday against a former Marine they say is responsible for six slayings, including one where another man was wrongfully imprisoned for 17 years.
Investigators identified Gerald Parker, a state prison inmate, as the feared “Bludgeon Killer” after a new system of genetic testing helped link him to attacks on young women who were raped and bashed in their Orange County homes in the late ‘70s.
Police and Navy officials said they are investigating whether Parker may be responsible for even more killings across the country, including the 1977 slaying of a 20-year-old Costa Mesa woman who lived close to the other victims.
Parker spent 7 1/2 years in the Marine Corps, including stints at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station as well as bases in North Carolina, Alaska and Mississippi, before he was convicted of raping a 13-year-old Tustin girl in 1980.
That was the same year another Marine, 22-year-old Kevin Lee Green of Tustin, was convicted of second-degree murder for the bludgeoning attack of his pregnant 21-year-old wife and the murder of her full-term fetus.
Parker, who could face the death penalty if convicted, confessed just a week ago to the attack on Green’s wife, according to sources close to the investigation.
Green, now 38, was freed from custody Thursday as a judge and prosecutors apologized for the mistake.
“You can never get back those 17 years. All of us obviously feel very bad that this took place,” Orange County Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi said Thursday. “Our justice system is not 100% perfect, but it’s as close to perfect as you’re going to find anywhere in this world.”
The Green case blew open while investigators from Tustin and Costa Mesa were working a cluster of unsolved murder cases earlier this year--the killings and sexual assaults of women ages 17 to 31 that had baffled them for years.
The detectives learned of the new state database that can match genetic material known as DNA from convicted criminals to evidence from open cases and they lobbied the Orange County sheriff’s crime lab to run their cases. The police work was aided by two local prosecutors who have embarked on a project to reexamine the county’s unsolved murder cases.
Investigators said they eventually made six matches--all to Parker--with the help of new technology that allowed them to compare evidence as tiny as body fluid stains from crime scenes to the database of 65,000 DNA samples of convicted felons.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department had just begun using the new technique--known as the Short Tandem Repeats method--in March. The county lab is one of three in the nation capable of such a task, said Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates.
“We were completely amazed,” said Frank Fitzpatrick, the sheriff’s forensic science director. “Not only did we get a hit in the database, but it was linked to all of these cases.”
Authorities say they have DNA matches between Parker and murder victims Kimberly Gaye Rawlins, 21, of Costa Mesa; Marolyn Kay Carleton, 31, of Costa Mesa; Debora Kennedy, 24, of Tustin; and Debra Lynn Senior, 17, of Costa Mesa. All were killed in 1979. Police sources say Parker also has confessed to the slaying of Sandra Kay Fry, 17, of Anaheim, who was raped and murdered in 1978.
A sixth DNA match links Parker to a rape of a 24-year-old Costa Mesa optometrist, but the three-year statute of limitations on the case has expired, according to police.
“All these years we’ve been haunted by little demons,” said Thomas Fry, 36, a radio talk show host in Las Vegas who is the brother of Sandra Fry. “Now we can put all those wandering thoughts aside, find some tentative closure and hope that this individual will pay the ultimate punishment.”
Once they established the DNA links to the murder cases, Costa Mesa and Tustin detectives traveled to Avenal State Prison in Central California and talked to Parker. He was imprisoned for a parole violation and scheduled for release next month.
Police sources said that during the interview, Parker admitted attacking Green’s wife, Dianna D’Aiello.
D’Aiello was comatose for a month after the 1979 attack and suffered significant memory loss but testified against her husband, who is white. Jurors said Green’s alibi--that he was out getting a cheeseburger at the time of the attack and that he had seen a black man loitering around their apartment complex--"just wasn’t believable.”
D’Aiello testified that she was in her ninth month of pregnancy when her husband attacked her after she refused to have sex. Her head injuries were severe and doctors considered removing the fetus, but feared it would cost D’Aiello her life, according to court records. Doctors waited 24 hours for her condition to improve and after performing a caesarean section, the fetus was dead.
Green’s attorneys filed an appeal of his conviction with the Fourth District Court of Appeal, which was denied in 1982.
Green had maintained his innocence over the years and had been a model inmate, most recently at the Correctional Training Facility at Soledad, where he worked as a warden’s secretary, helped give tours to college students and coordinated the prison Christmas party, investigators and prison officials said.
“He had a very good rapport with the staff and the inmate population and it was built on respect,” said Jerry Smith, a spokesman at Soledad, where Green spent most of his term.
Tuesday, Tustin Det. Tom Tarpley visited Green in Soledad to tell him his nightmare might soon be over. Sipping a glass of water in an interview room, Green was wide-eyed and overcome with emotion.
“Kevin was very grateful that somebody was looking into the case,” Tarpley said. “When I told him where this evidence might lead, he began crying. He immediately broke down.”
Ronald G. Brower, Green’s attorney, said his client flew to the Midwest after Thursday’s hearing to be reunited with his family.
“He is not resentful. He believes everybody proceeded in good faith,” Brower said, adding that his client had no plans to sue for damages.
At a press conference Friday, police and prosecutors announced the new charges against Parker and revealed some of the soul-searching that has gone on the past week when they realized that Green had been the victim of a terrible mistake.
Sheriff Gates said that when he learned about the Green case, “I felt happy and I felt terrible. My stomach went ‘boom.’ My first words were, ‘I’m glad it wasn’t my brother.’ ”
But based on the case they had and with assurances by experts that D’Aiello was a credible witness, Capizzi said police and prosecutors acted correctly.
In 1979, investigators initially believed the attack on D’Aiello, who was nine months pregnant, might have been linked to five murders in Orange County. But eventually Tustin detectives shifted their focus to Green.
Meanwhile, D’Aiello and her family remained stunned by the turn of events on Friday. The 36-year-old woman remained secluded with her mother in Riverside.
“I’m going through it,” D’Aiello said, declining further comment.
Her father, Jerome D’Aiello, said his daughter was going “to have deal with it” and accept that someone else has now been charged with the crime.
“From what they say, there was a palm print and DNA,” the father said. “My daughter still has no recollection of any other face. You have to understand she was in a very traumatic state at the time. The beating she saw could have been something that happened before, because he did hit her.”
While Green was incarcerated, he tried to have a DNA test performed on evidence collected in the case but lacked the money needed for expensive forensic tests, Brower said.
The attorney said he was “frankly surprised” that crucial evidence from the attack on D’Aiello had not been destroyed or discarded over the years.
Brower said that Green’s constant refusal to confess to the crime hurt him at parole hearings because officials viewed him as unrepentant.
“He continued to assert his innocence in a series of parole hearings. . . . [Deputy Dist. Atty.] Mel Jensen felt particularly bad because he had gone to several hearings and urged that Green be kept in prison,” Brower said.
Green passed a defense-administered polygraph test before trial, the attorney said.
Although D’Aiello’s testimony was instrumental in convicting Green, he is not resentful of his former wife, Brower said. The fact that she identified Green, who is white, and not Parker, who is African American, as her attacker “points to the extent of the wife’s brain damage,” he added.
“I think it was a good-faith effort on her part [when she testified that Green attacked her]. I don’t think she made it up,” Brower said.
Also contributing to this report were Times staff writers H.G. Reza, Anna Cekola, Tina Nguyen, Greg Hernandez and Rene Lynch.
* DIFFICULT EMOTIONS: For the family of one young victim, mixed feelings. A25
* REVIVING THE CASE: Gerald Parker has a long history of crime. A26