As Glenda Sue Crosley told police, she always knew she would kill her husband, Sam, if he didn’t kill her first. And so she did. It happened 11 years ago in a Bakersfield parking lot when she rammed her Volvo into the man she said had abused her and her daughters for years.
Convicted of second-degree murder after two trials, Crosley has served eight years of a 15-year-to-life sentence at the California Institute for Women at Frontera.
But now, Crosley, 52, is seeking a new trial with a sensational revelation--namely, that her public defender was carrying on secret sexual relationships with two of her three daughters, before and during her trials in which the young women were witnesses.
“Glenda doesn’t say he’s a horrible man just for sleeping with her daughters,” explained her attorney, Linda Starr of Santa Clara. “But he was doing it when he was representing her. How could she trust him to represent her rights when he had this extraordinary personal involvement? To me, it’s unfathomable.”
Gary Turnbull, now ill with cancer and living in Ontario, Canada, admitted in a telephone interview that he had relationships with his former client’s daughters. But he said she knew what was happening and, besides, they didn’t affect the case at all. He dismissed her legal move as a desperate and “bogus” ploy to get out of prison.
Neither Crosley nor her daughters agreed to interviews.
The unusual case spotlights the troubling issue of sexual misconduct in the legal profession, which has struggled for years to pinpoint when, or if, lawyers’ sexual behavior is a problem. Five years ago, in the wake of allegations of lawyer-client sex involving high-profile divorce lawyer Marvin Mitchelson and others, California led the nation in adopting standards to discipline lawyers for continuing a sexual relationship with clients if it leads to incompetent work, or for using coercion, or requiring sex as a condition of representation.
No one knows the extent of lawyer-client sex because most clients only complain if the relationship sours. The State Bar of California has received about 20 complaints a year since 1994--mostly involving divorce lawyers. A bigger problem, some suggest, involves attorneys having sex with the other party’s attorney.
Other states have since adopted stricter rules than California’s. In Ohio, for instance, a lawyer can be disbarred, suspended or censured for having consensual sex with a client without any proof that the representation was compromised. But, in general, the momentum to regulate lawyers’ sexual behavior has waned, said Stephen Gillers, professor of legal ethics at New York University School of Law.
“They’ve talked about it, fumbled the issue and, except for a handful of states, consciously avoided directly addressing the issue seriously,” he said. “It’s partly First Amendment enthusiasts who see the rule as an infringement of their freedom of association. And it’s partly reluctance to acknowledge this is a problem that needs addressing.”
Basically, he said, “Lawyers just want it to go away.”
But legal ethicists said there are long-standing reasons behind the rules, such as the need for emotional detachment. And, according to Starr, this case is a good example: “Sexual relationships can mess up your case.”
Because Turnbull was involved with one daughter before Crosley’s first trial, then became involved with the other during her second trial, the petition claims “he was operating under a conflict of interest almost from the moment of beginning his representation of her.”
Their story, called “a Peyton Place kind of scenario” by one legal observer, began in 1986 when Crosley was assigned to Kern County Deputy Public Defender Turnbull, whom a former colleague described as a “flamboyant, ferocious” and highly successful professional.
In court documents, Crosley’s older daughter, Angela, said she was 23 and recently separated from her first husband when she met her mother’s attorney. As they were returning from a bail hearing, she said he asked her to a Beach Boys concert at the Kern County Fairgrounds. “He told me not to tell anyone that I was going out socially with him because it would not look right,” she said.
The petition for a writ of habeas corpus states that they began having sex a month later. But in two more months, they ended it “because Mr. Turnbull was going to reconcile with his wife.” Nevertheless, she said he frequently telephoned her, saying he wanted to see her throughout the first trial.
A mistrial was declared after jurors acquitted Crosley of murder in the first degree but were unable to reach a verdict on murder in the second degree.
Then, before the second trial began in 1988, the documents allege that Turnbull, then 44, started dating Angela’s sister Heather, who was then 19. She said he took her out to dinner in Los Angeles, where she was living, to talk about her mother’s case but never brought up the subject. “When we met again, he told me that he had desired to become sexually intimate with me immediately upon meeting me, but that because I was only 17 years old at the time, I was ‘jailbait.’ ”
He told her, she said, that he could help her mother with her case, but that “he needed some ‘incentive.’ ” She took that to mean he would do a better job if she slept with him. According to the legal papers, they began a secret sexual relationship that lasted throughout the trial. The relationship continued in an off-and-on way and in 1991 she gave birth to their son.
Despite testimony that Crosley showed classic signs of the battered-wife syndrome, she was convicted of second-degree murder.
Crosley claims it was only later, when Heather became pregnant that she finally learned of the affair.
In the interview, Turnbull said he saw Angela during the first trial, but didn’t start seeing Heather “until two, three years later. She (Crosley) was well aware of it at the time. We all sat at the same dinner table. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t mind,” he said.
“She used to phone the house and say, ‘Hi Gary, is Heather there?’ ”
According to Starr, Crosley has been quiet until now partly because she was unaware the legal system allows her to challenge an alleged conflict of interest and partly because, court documents further allege, Turnbull threatened to take the child and have Heather committed to a mental institution. Rather than risk that, Starr said, “She said she’d rather rot in jail.”
But last year, according to Starr, another twist in the story freed Crosley to challenge Turnbull without fear of risking her daughter’s custody rights. After legal wrangling over child support, custody and visitation between the couple, the Kern County superior court terminated Turnbull’s parental rights to his son. (In addition, Turnbull was suspended from the bar for 16 months for failure to pay child support.)
Turnbull denied making any threats and said he voluntarily relinquished his parental rights due to his illness.
He also denied that his involvement with Crosley’s daughters affected his judgment or was a conflict of interest. “I was always on her side,” he said.
Turnbull said he was contacted about the case by the governor’s office after Crosley filed a petition for clemency in 1992. “I said, ‘Look, she got a fair trial. I disagree with the verdict. I thought it was closer to manslaughter. As I’ve come to learn certain things, even the girls told me certain things, if it was a battered-wife syndrome, maybe she was the batterer and he was the recipient. She’s not a nice lady.”
Gov. Pete Wilson denied her petition in 1994.
In order to win a new trial, legal experts said, Crosley would likely have to prove Turnbull’s relationships with her daughters adversely affected how he represented her.
“It seems hard to explain how the lawyer’s interest in pursing the daughters would somehow deflect him from his job of zealous advocacy for the mother,” professor Gillers said. “The fact that there are two doesn’t help him any. We may not like the lawyer, may not want to be his partner, may not recommend him to a prospective client. That’s far different from saying that he acted unethically.”
On the other hand, Paul W. Vapnek, former chair of the State Bar of California’s ethics committee, said judges use state standards for discipline for guidance in deciding whether or not a client received a fair trial. “The current rule is very explicit. If you have a relationship with a party or a witness, you must disclose it in writing to the client. It’s crystal-clear. If there was that relationship and the defense attorney did not disclose it in writing to the client, there was a rule violation.
“The fact that it’s not the client doesn’t make that much of a difference,” he said. Nor does it matter that Crosley may have been aware of the relationships. “She may have not said anything for fear she’d be sold out by him.
“In the relationship between a client and a lawyer, especially in criminal defense work, the client depends on a lawyer for everything.”