Friday, May 3, 2013

Interview With Former LA County Deputy DA Paul Turley


Back in April 2012, I had lunch with Paul Turley, former Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney. I recently obtained permission from Paul to write about our lunch together. Paul and his wife Barbara (also a lawyer) were visiting friends in Nashville and since we were email correspondents, I scouted out a restaurant were we could meet.

Paul told me he would be wearing a vest and was traveling with a beautiful woman, his wife. I recognized them right away. Barbara is tall, slim and elegant. She was wearing a pullover sweater and slacks.

The trial we would discuss was for the murder of Thora Rose in 1963. The case was tried 30 years later in October 1993. At the time it was the coldest case ever solved by the LAPD.

This trial was referred to by Matthew McGough in his Atlantic Magazine article, The Lazarus File. The suspect, Vernon Robinson, was identified through the AFIS fingerprint database. I had mentioned this trial to Sprocket a few times.

I saw a Hard Copy segment on the trial in the summer of 1994. The piece was about 6-7 minutes long and left a lot out. I was always curious about the whole story. When I obtained Walt Lewis' book The Criminal Justice Club, that I reviewed for T&T, I asked Walt if he had heard of the case and he put me in touch with Paul Turley.

In our meeting, Paul told me a lot about trying cases. When I asked him a question, Barbara chimed in. She also knows the law front and back.

When asked about picking juries, Paul said he liked people who owned homes, blue collar people. He didn't like "PHD's." I told him about the first Phil Spector trial and the juror with multiple engineering degrees who hung the jury. Paul agreed that was the type he meant, "They want to show they're smarter than you."

Paul was in the DA's Office Career Criminal Unit when he got the Thora Rose case. A modest, self-effacing man, he gives a lot of credit to LAPD detective Mike McDonough and the other investigators.

Paul tried two high profile cases, Robinson and Charles Keating, in which he was co-counsel with William Hodgman. Barbara told me that once a local TV station showed up at the front door to do an interview. She didn't like people coming into her home but she had to go along.

CBS filmed the entire Robinson trial for a 60 Minutes episode. They thought at first he was innocent because of computer error and another man gave Robinson an alibi, claiming the two were in boot camp in San Diego at the time of the murder. It turned out the man was mistaken, Robinson and he were never together according to Navy records.

The CBS technicians gradually realized Robinson was guilty. He left 36 fingerprints in Thora Rose's apartment and he was living at home and going to a Navy training station in Santa Monica at the time. "He really is guilty," the CBS people started telling Paul during the trial.

Robinson took the stand and Paul took his story apart piece by piece on cross examination. In his closing argument, the defense attorney said computers make mistakes. In his rebuttal, Paul Turley said "I stand in opposition to the idea that someone is entitled to a free murder every 30 years."

The jury came back with a guilty verdict in 6 hours.

I asked Paul and Barbara their opinion on the overturning of the verdicts in the Christian-Newsom case, which we have covered on T&T. They both said immediately "It has to be overturned." With Judge Baumgartner buying drugs from probationers in his own court and having sex with a druggie under his supervision in judge's chambers, there is no way the verdicts would stand in California, Paul told me. The federal courts would overturn the verdicts if the Tennessee Supreme Court did not.

All in all, I spent a most enjoyable couple of hours with Los Angeles residents, Paul and Barbara Turley, who were visiting Tennessee. I've read a lot about trials in Los Angeles and elsewhere but had never talked face to face with someone who had been there and done it.

David in TN

30 Years Later, Fingerprints Bring Murder Case to Trial- LA Times

Thirty Years On, Police Computer Names a Killer- Independent

Articles on Vernon Robinson- LA Times Archive

Charles Keating Trials-

Articles on Paul Turley- LA Times Archive


Anonymous said...

I have an anecdote about the Vernon Robinson trial which Paul Turley gave me permission to tell.

Inside the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, this was considered a difficult case going in. For example, Robinson had the support of his former church. The pastor was a highly respected community leader. He asked for and got a meeting with the District Attorney, Gil Garcetti prior to the Robinson trial in October 1993.

After meeting with the pastor, Garcetti called Paul Turley into his office for a meeting. Garcett asked what he had for evidence. Paul told him "fingerprints." Garcetti said, "That's it?" Paul replied in the affirmative. Garcetti's parting comment was "sounds like a tough case."

As it turned out, Paul Turley was able to use the fingerprints and Navy records to lock up a dead-bang guilty case.

David In TN