Bloodbath at Bob’s Big Boy, Conclusion

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Photo of crime scene courtesy of LAPL. This Bob’s restaurant has since been demolished.

Tami Rogoway’s failure to identify Franklin Freeman as one of the Bob’s Big Boy shooters the first time around was a boon for his defense attorney, Madelynn Kopple. A rumor circulated that Rogoway’s failure may have been the result of undue pressure applied to her by Kopple.  In any case, Kopple mounted a vigorous defense. But despite the rumors no verifiable evidence was found to prove that she had applied undue pressure on Rogoway and the witness did finally ID Freeman as one of the killers.

Clearly a pit bull in defense of her client, Kopple went so far as to write letters to the Los Angeles police and prosecutors charging that they were aware of Freeman’s innocence and that they were “allowing the actual killer to remain free.” Her action triggered a gag order. Undeterred,  Kopple supplied the name of the man she thought should take Freeman’s place at trial: Thomas Carver, 29. It isn’t clear from the LA Times coverage why Kopple accused Carver. If he had any connection with the other defendants it wasn’t mentioned. Yet, at Kopple’s insistence, Carver was brought in for a lineup at the Sheriff’s Department. The gag order prevented details of the lineup from being reported in detail by the press, but the outcome spoke volumes. Carter was returned to his West LA home and was never charged.

The contretemps over Kopple’s letters was far from over though. Superior Court Judge James M. Ideman dismissed her as Freeman’s attorney for what he considered her over-the-top behavior. However Freeman refused to accept another attorney in Koppel’s place so an appeal was filed and she was reinstated.

None of the defense attorneys were keen to have their clients tried together; so, motions to sever were submitted, and accepted.  The three defendants would be tried individually.

Leslie Abramson

Leslie Abramson

First up was Ricky Sanders. There was a mountain of evidence against him and even legendary defense attorney Leslie Abramson found it an uphill battle. A search of his home turned up a sawed-off shotgun similar to the weapon used in murders–as well as two spent shell cases the same size as those used by the second gunman. Cops also found coins in wrappers of the type used at Bob’s.

At every opportunity the prosecutor,  Harvey Giss, reminded the jurors of the carnage in the restaurant—and the continuing pain felt by the loved ones of the dead in the days and months since.

Cesario Luna never regained consciousness and died of his wounds six months after the attack. Jurors learned that he wasn’t even supposed to be in the restaurant that night. He came in on his day off to fill in for a worker who was a no-show. His son, Ismael, a dishwasher, miraculously escaped injury but whatever relief he felt was marred by the devastating loss of  his father. Michael Malloy, the night manager, lost his right eye. Evelyn Jackson, a waitress who pleaded with the gunmen for her life after the shooting began, was shot in the head and suffered severe brain damage. Dionne Irvin, waitress, had her arm shattered by a shotgun blast. Rogoway, waitress, who initially failed to identify Freeman, was partially paralyzed with 150 shotgun pellets in her body, three of them lodged in her spinal column.

On August 20, 1982 the jury found Sanders guilty of four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon, five counts of robbery, two counts of attempted robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit robbery.

The jury that found Sanders guilty for his part in the December 14, 1980 massacre sentenced him to die.

With her boyfriend sentenced to death Carletha Stewart decided, on the very day she was to go to trial, to plead guilty and avoid the same fate. She copped to all of the crimes she was charged with: four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon, six counts of robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit robbery. She admitted to driving the getaway car. Taking everything into consideration she got a good deal, 25 years to life.freeman pic2

The last to stand trial was Franklin Freeman.

In his opening statement at Freeman’s trial in August 1983, Deputy District Attorney Harvey Giss told jurors that they could expect Carletha Stewart to tell them the same story she had told him.  That her cousin had taken part in planning the robbery at Bob’s but backed out when a third conspirator said that he might have to kill everyone in the restaurant.  Giss planned to discredit Stewart and prove that Freeman had gone through with the robbery and murders. Carletha threw him a curve when she refused to testify. Giss wasn’t broken up about her decision since, as far as he was concerned, she was going to perjure herself.  The prosecution’s case went forward without difficulty.

Further, Giss told the jury that he would present  testimony from the manager of a Taco Bell in Santa Monica that was robbed by two gunmen just hours following the slaughter at Bob’s. The manager identified Freeman and quoted his accomplice as saying: “We are going to jail for 30 years for what we just did, so we don’t care about you.” Then the man identified as Freeman said, “Put him in the freezer; put him in the refrigerator and plug him.”

The manager would likely have died if he hadn’t escaped by batting the gun out of the robber’s hand, grabbing it, emptying the shells out of it and then diving through a plate glass window.

The trial lasted four months and the jury deliberated for one week. On December 22, 1983, four days past the third anniversary of the crime, Franklin Freeman Jr. was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon, six counts of robbery, and one count of conspiracy. He was also found guilty of attempting to rob the Santa Monica Taco Bell and guilty of assaulting the manger with a deadly weapon.

Freeman convictedFreeman sat impassively as the verdict was read, and while a young woman screaming “no” and “you liar” attempted to lunge through the short swinging gate that separates spectators from trial participants. Two bailiffs subdued her and she was removed from the courtroom. Whether she was a relative, girlfriend, or just a trial groupie wasn’t revealed.

During the penalty phase the jury was unable to reach a decision about Freeman’s punishment and announced that they were hopelessly deadlocked.

Because of the deadlock the prosecution and defense were compelled to present their evidence to a second jury tasked with determining Freeman’s sentence. Nearly one year following his conviction Freeman was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Freeman showed no emotion when his sentence was pronounced but Madelynn Kopple burst into tears.

freeman sparedWhen asked by reporters why Freeman’s life had been spared, the jury’s forewoman said that they had some doubts regarding the extent of his involvement in the murders and so decided against sending him to the gas chamber.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Ricky Sanders — is still on death row.  On May 26, 2010, he filed an appeal in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit over the denial of his habeas petition in Federal District Court. I don’t know the outcome of his appeal, but it was very likely denied. If and when California resumes executions he is certainly at the top of the list.

Franklin Freeman Jr. —  is in prison serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Carletha Stewart — a petition circulated by a friend of hers a few years ago advocated for her release, but as far as I can tell she is still incarcerated.

Madelynn Koppel — according to  the California Bar Association she continues to practice law.

Leslie Abramson — is best known for her defense of Erik and Lyle Menendez for the 1989 shotgun murder of their parents in Beverly Hills.

Harvey Giss — eventually left the DA’s office and went on to become a superior court judge.  He retired in July 2014.

I don’t know what became of the survivors of the tragedy. I sincerely hope that they were able to find some measure of peace and, those who were physically and emotionally able, went on to lead happy lives.

Spree Killer, Conclusion

In 1984 Dean Phillip Carter was sentenced to 59 years in prison for the rape of a Ventura County woman. His defense, that the sex was consensual, failed to convince the jury.The victim testified that she was awakened, shortly after midnight on March 29, 1984, by the sound of someone entering her apartment through her kitchen window. By the time she sat up in bed a masked man holding a butcher knife was standing in the doorway of her bedroom. Even with a bandana tied around his face she recognized him as Dean Carter, an acquaintance of her roommate.

carter convictedFor over five hours Carter forced the woman at knife-point to orally copulate him three times and then he vaginally raped her once. Twice he choked her into unconsciousness. Once because she tried to escape, and the second time because she attempted to scream for help. When he took her car keys she feared that he would take her somewhere and kill her. She testified: “I took hold of his face and I talked to him. I told him to try to remember what he was doing and who he was and who I was and that he didn’t have to do this. . .I was trying to reason with him.” She also tried to keep him off-balance. After the final sexual assault she hugged him, told him he was “beautiful”, and then casually got up and began to dress for work.She gave him directions to the bus station and, unbelievably, he left.

Because Carter was held accountable for murders and rapes in multiple jurisdictions there were numerous legal delays, much to the anger and frustration of the families of the victims. It took several  years to get him into a courtroom to face charges for the murders of Jillette Mills, Susan Knoll, and Bonnie Guthrie.

In January 1990 a panel of seven women and five men deliberated for 3 1/2 days before they recommended execution at San Quentin for Carter for the slayings of the three L.A. County women. Family members of the victims applauded the penalty and nearly all of them expressed a desire to witness his execution. Carter was removed from the courtroom in leg irons. He didn’t make eye contact with anyone. Deputy D.A. Marsh Goldstein said: “He (Carter) never said that he was sorry. He never said anything. He’s one of the most evil people I’ve ever seen–an absolutely awful, non-human being. If you believe society has the right to impose the death penalty. . . then this is the case where it should be applied.”carter_DA

A year after he was sentenced to die for three murders Carter was on trial for the rape and murder of Janette Cullins. Janette’s body had been found in a closet in her Pacific Beach apartment on April 14, 1984. San Diego County Deputy D.A. Robert Eichler spent three hours in his opening statement describing in great detail to the jury Carter’s “…path of destruction that went through the state of California” during a three week period in 1984. The evidence against Carter was overwhelming.

Carter was convicted in May 1991 for the first-degree murder with special circumstances (which meant another death penalty) of Janette Cullins. Cullin’s mother, Helen, said: “I think he should be strangled. That’s the way he killed my daughter.”

Dean_Phillip_Carter_mugFollowing Carter’s sentencing the woman he had raped in Ventura County wrote a first person account of her attack for the L.A. Times–it was gut wrenching. She had survived the attack, but for the next seven years she was called to testify against Carter.  Each time she had to re-live the events of that night.

What set Carter off on a three week long rampage? His attorneys pointed to his lousy childhood and his failed marriage. They attempted to characterize him as the loving father of twin boys. The truth was that he was an absent dad and a miserable husband.

It has been 25 years since Dean Phillip Carter was sentenced in the Cullins case. The families of the murder victims who wanted to watch him die in San Quentin’s gas chamber still have not had justice. In fact several of the family members have passed away over the years.

In 1995, Carter began writing an internet column, “Deadman Talking”. I’ve read a few of the entries and, frankly, he sickens me. He claims in some of his posts that he does not to want to discuss his case, although he manages to plead his innocence either implicitly or explicitly as frequently as possible. He continues to deny committing the crimes that brought him to “The Row”.

The Los Angeles Times covered the presence of inmates on the internet in 2000:

In 1996 it was news when mainstream media discovered that Dean Philip Carter, on California’s death row for killing four women, was posting the column “Dead Man Talkin’ ” with the help of a San Francisco disc jockey.

Today, Carter’s column is available in six languages–“Un homme mort vous parle” is the French version–and is one of scores of death row journals. The father of one of Carter’s victims has his own site, “Justice Against Crime Talking,” that includes a link to Carter’s site–a photograph of a burro.

Because he has refused to admit his guilt he is compelled to adopt the mantle of a grievously wronged innocent. It fits him poorly. He is capable of sorrow, but only for himself, and self-pity informs most of his writing. As far as I am concerned he is an evil man who has outlived anything that may have approximated real justice for the murders and rapes he committed over 30 years ago.

When will he be executed? Don’t hold your breath. He’s more likely to perish from old age.

Spree Killer, Part 1

For 18 days, from late March to mid-April 1984, a series of rapes and murders spanned California from Oakland to San Diego. The police soon realized that the sexual assaults and slayings were likely the work of one man. All they had to do was find him.

***

On March 25, 1984 a woman was raped at knife point in her San Diego apartment. Two days later another young woman was raped at knife point in Ventura County. Her assailant strangled her until she lost consciousness. She was lucky to be alive.

On April 1, 1984 in Lafayette, California, about 30 miles east of Oakland, Tok Kim met a man named Phil in a local bar. They spent the next several days together and were seen by a few of her neighbors. On April 13th, Tok’s decomposed body was discovered. The cause of death could not be determined, but strangulation wasn’t ruled out. Her car and some of her personal items were missing.

jillette mills

Jillette Mills

Kim’s car was located hundreds of miles away in Culver City parked in front of an apartment building where roommates Susan Knoll and Jillette Mills were found dead. Each of the women had been sexually assaulted, strangled, and then their bodies were stacked in a bedroom closet.

Jillette’s Datson 280 ZX with the vanity plate PHANTM Z, as well as personal items belonging to both women were missing.

The body of Bonnie Guthrie was discovered on the bedroom floor of her Culver City apartment on April 12th. She had been sexually assaulted and died of asphyxia caused by strangulation. Personal items were missing from her residence.

janette cullen

Janette Cullins

Janette Cullins was found in the closet of her San Diego apartment she, like the other dead women, had been strangled. Wood chips were found near the front door, which suggested that the killer had broken in.

***

It was 10:50 p.m. on April 17th when Arizona Highway Patrolman Robert Dapser received a call on his CB radio from a truck driver. The trucker said that “an erratic vehicle had been driving in his location, passed by him twice and nearly cut him off.” The erratic driver, possibly drunk, was behind the wheel of a Datsun 280 ZX with a California vanity plate. The trucker thought it was “PHANTOM 2″.

Officer Dapser flipped on his emergency lights. He caught up with the Datsun and watched it swerve across the center line of the highway. The sports car finally pulled over and the driver, the lone occupant of the vehicle, produced his ID but couldn’t find the vehicle registration. He told Dapser, “I can’t find it, she must not have it in here.” The driver’s failure to produce the registration wasn’t a big deal, but Officer Dapser caught a whiff of marijuana and saw a roach in the center console. There was an empty beer bottle, and several full ones, on the floor on the passenger’s side of the car.

Dapser called dispatch and said that the license plate was not “PHANTOM 2′ as originally reported but “PHANTM Z”. A few minutes later he was informed that the car had been reported stolen. Dapser Mirandized the driver and took him into custody to await detectives from California.

susan knoll

Susan Knoll

 Detectives from Culver City and West Los Angeles arrived in Arizona and inventoried the contents of the Datsun. They found a suitcase containing a few household items identified as belonging to Tok Kim; a supermarket check cashing card belonging to Susan Knoll; workout gear and photo equipment belonging to Jillette Mills; Janette Cullins’ bank card; and three hand knit sweaters identified as Bonnie Guthrie’s.

The detectives were anxious to speak to the driver of Jillette’s Datsun.  Was he a killer and a rapist? Or was he just an unlucky car thief?

NEXT TIME: The killer is identified.