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Letter Carrier Tells of Classical Music in Tuffree Home Before Shooting

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Defense attorneys in the murder trial of Daniel Allan Tuffree presented their last witness Wednesday: a postal carrier who said he heard operatic music drifting from Tuffree’s home just hours before a deadly gun battle erupted involving Simi Valley police.

With that brief testimony, attorneys cast a final image of their client as a quiet classical music fan who was tucked away in his house, and then rested their case.

Tuffree, 49, is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Officer Michael Clark last year.

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Clark was one of three officers who were sent to Tuffree’s house Aug. 4, 1995, to check on his well-being after reports that the former schoolteacher had been taking Valium and drinking alcohol and was possibly suicidal.

In addition to the letter carrier, Tuffree’s psychiatrist took the stand Wednesday and told jurors how he repeatedly pestered her to refill a high-dose Valium prescription.

Dr. Usma Khalid said she prescribed 40 milligrams of Valium, the maximum amount of that tranquilizer, in February 1995 and kept Tuffree on it for the six months before the shooting.

The morning before his fatal confrontation with police, Tuffree called Khalid’s office five times requesting a refill, she said.

She told her staff not to authorize the refill and to ask Tuffree to make an appointment for the following week, she said.

“What I told my office was that his refill wasn’t due for another 11 days,” she testified under cross-examination. Asked if Tuffree ever made the appointment, she said he had not.

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Despite Tuffree’s pestering on the day of the shooting, Khalid said she did not think that her patient was behaving out of the ordinary and told jurors that he would frequently page her or call her at home demanding a refill on his Valium.

“We had gone through this before with Mr. Tuffree,” she said. “This was routine behavior to me.”

Khalid testified that Tuffree had a history of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol--as much as a quart of vodka a day, according to a 1993 psychiatric report.

In response to a question by Deputy Dist. Atty. Peter Kossoris, Khalid said she would not be concerned about the possibility that a patient who owned a loaded gun and had been mixing Valium and alcohol would commit suicide.

“It wouldn’t be a concern,” she said.

The call to police asking for a check on Tuffree’s welfare stemmed from calls he made to an insurance company after being denied the refill.

Khalid, an Agoura Hills-based psychiatrist, was one of eight witnesses called by Deputy Public Defenders Howard Asher and Richard Holly over the last three days.

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The attorneys have admitted that Tuffree shot Clark to death. But they have argued that Tuffree does not deserve to be convicted of first-degree murder--which carries a possible death sentence--because of the slaying.

They say police improperly entered Tuffree’s backyard to check his health, then failed to leave after seeing he was not hurt. Tuffree also ordered the police off his property, according to court testimony.

Asher and Holly have suggested that Clark fired first, igniting the fatal gunfight.

But prosecutors have argued that Tuffree knowingly shot and killed a police officer. He had Clark outgunned, testimony has shown. And by his own admission in a tape-recorded interview played for the jury, Tuffree went for his weapons after seeing police enter his backyard.

Tuffree wielded a .40-caliber Glock semiautomatic pistol and a .44-caliber magnum revolver, while Clark was armed with a 9-millimeter Baretta.

Deputy Dist. Attys. Kossoris and Patricia Murphy called about 50 witnesses during five weeks of trial. Today, they plan to call a rebuttal witness.

The case is expected to go to the jury late next week after closing arguments and instruction from Judge Allan L. Steele.

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