The Enforcer Files
In 2000, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office celebrated 150 years in business. Prosecutors have a duty to uphold the “search for truth,” but district attorneys aren’t spared fallibility. The office that nailed the Night Stalker and the Alphabet Bomber has also weathered the embarrassments of the McMartin Preschool and O.J. Simpson trials, and D.A.s have played the bad-guy roles themselves on occasion. Some lesser-known peaks and valleys from the archives:
HALL OF FAME
A Murderess Pays the Price: Susan Hayward won an Oscar in 1958 for her role in “I Want to Live!” based on the 1955 gas-chamber execution of Barbara Graham. Contrary to Hollywood’s version, which credited groundless rumors that Graham was framed, Deputy Dist. Attys. J. Miller Leavy and Adolph Alexander built an airtight case that the attractive crook and her gang had strangled and beaten to death a disabled elderly widow, Mabel Monahan.
Justice Without Borders: When NAFTA critics charged that the trade agreement would encourage U.S. polluters to seek haven in more environmentally lax Mexico, they often cited the toxic mess at Alco Pacifico de Mexico, an abandoned lead recycling plant in Tijuana. But Deputy Dist. Atty. David Eng gained Mexico’s cooperation and prosecuted the plant’s American owners, winning a $5-million cleanup fine in 1993. Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti allocated $300,000 of the funds to health-care efforts along the border.
The Avengers: The first female special agent in the U.S. Secret Service was shotgunned to death during a stakeout near Los Angeles International Airport in 1980. After a frustrating 16-year investigation, Los Angeles Police Department investigator Richard “Buck” Henry and Deputy Dist. Atty. Lester Kuriyama caught and convicted principal gunman Andre Stephen Alexander, who received the death penalty.
HALL OF SHAME
D.A. for Sale: Courtroom watchers were surprised at the passivity of Dist. Atty. Asa “Ace” Keyes during the 1928 trial of Julian Petroleum executives accused of swindling more than 40,000 investors. Keyes was later accused of taking thousands of dollars in bribes from the defendants. He served 18 months in San Quentin.
Shady Grove, Shady Deal: Feisty Buron Fitts, district attorney from 1928 to 1940, spent two years of his reign facing bribery and perjury charges after dropping the case against John P. Mills, a prominent developer implicated in a vice investigation. Fitts and his sister were indicted for selling Mills an orange grove for much more than its worth. Fitts was later acquitted, and charges against his sister were dropped.
Lost to the Dark Side: A popular former deputy district attorney, lawyer David H. Clark, was accused in 1931 of killing crime boss Charles H. Crawford and magazine publisher Herbert Spencer over money. “Debonair Dave” was acquitted of one murder, and the other case was dropped. Forced to move in with a former law partner after falling on hard times decades later, Clark killed the partner’s wife with a shotgun blast during an argument. He died in prison.