Faced with intense community opposition, attorneys are scaling back efforts to secure the freedom of a janitor who killed seven people in a 1976 shooting rampage at Cal State Fullerton.
Instead of seeking Edward Allaway's immediate release, his attorneys will ask that he remain at a state mental hospital for several more years with periodic supervised trips outside the gates.
Allaway was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1977, making him eligible for release if a judge finds that his sanity has been restored. A hearing on Allaway's sanity is scheduled for Sept. 24.
A team of state and private psychiatrists has declared him sane and recommended his release, 25 years after Orange County's deadliest act of mass violence. But relatives of his victims have launched an organized campaign to keep him locked up.
It was partly because of that opposition--and the sheer number of victims--that Deputy Public Defender John Bovee said he is changing his request.
"I hope this will alleviate as much as possible any fears of him running around loose in the community," Bovee said.
Despite the changes, families of the victims said they will fight any proposal that would let Allaway out of state custody--even for limited periods.
"I don't believe that any step toward freedom for a mass murderer is right," said Patricia Almazan, whose father was one of the victims. "We just can't play with fire like this. And that's what we're doing. There's no way in my mind this man would ever be suitable for walking in our society again."
Allaway's recent bid for release sparked a nationwide effort to keep him locked up, including a candlelight vigil at the university and a Web site operated by Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer that advocates Allaway's continued hospitalization.
Allaway, 62, has seen three prior bids for release rejected by Orange County judges. But the psychiatrists' support makes this effort his most serious yet.
Bovee said he expects his proposal to become a focal point of the September hearing, which could last several weeks. The lawyer will argue that Allaway has been a model patient at Patton State Hospital, where he coaches patients in the weight room and is a favorite among staff.
If Judge Frank F. Fasel grants Allaway's release, Bovee plans to ask that his client start out with 15-minute visits to parks and shopping malls while supervised by county mental health officials. The visits' duration would increase gradually to several hours and ultimately to weekends at board-and-care facilities, Bovee said. Within two to four years, Allaway could leave the mental hospital but remain closely supervised by state officials, the lawyer said.
Despite the proposed restrictions, Bovee said, he is not surprised that victims' relatives oppose the idea.
"I don't think any proposal that even hints at Ed stepping out of the door is going to be perceived by them to be a good proposal, and I fully understand where they're coming from," Bovee said. "They just don't want him out. And I would probably feel the same way if I were in their position, as would Ed."
Legal experts said it is debatable whether the new proposal will affect the judge's final decision.
"It seems to me the issue is, is he sane or insane, not should we spend the next four years trying to convince everyone he's sane," said Brent Romney, a professor at Western State University School of Law in Fullerton and a former Orange County prosecutor.
Allaway carried a .22-caliber rifle onto the Fullerton campus July 12, 1976, and roamed the halls of the library, shooting some employees while sparing others. One paramedic described the aftermath--in addition to the seven deaths, two victims survived--as a battle scene.
Almazan said she hopes the judge considers the carnage while debating Bovee's proposal.
"We need to keep the gravity of the crime at the forefront," she said. "That's what it's all about."