YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Court Shooting--Crime Victims Worried : Father's Act Was Understandable but Let the Law Prevail, Some Say

April 13, 1986|DAN MORAIN | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Jack Spiegelman always stood out among his closest friends, the other parents who banded together hoping to make certain that justice was done to the murderers of their children.

They all decried what they saw as a lenient court system and lobbied for laws they thought would make it tougher. But Spiegelman went further, writing a broadside so strident against Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird that other people in his crime victims' group, Justice for Homicide Victims, chastised him for it.

And many of his friends would admit to entertaining thoughts of taking personal revenge on those responsible for the crimes against their children. Last Thursday in a Hall of Justice courtroom here, Spiegelman apparently did just that, drawing a .38-caliber revolver from a briefcase and shooting Daniel D. Morgan, who is facing trial for the murder of Spiegelman's teen-age daughter.

Morgan, hit by three bullets, was hospitalized but is expected to recover. Spiegelman, who surrendered to a bailiff immediately after the gunfire, was charged with attempted murder, then freed on $25,000 bail.

While the events of last Thursday are dramatic enough in themselves--the movie "Death Wish" seemingly come to life--the shooting also is likely to reverberate beyond the San Francisco courthouse. On Friday, scores of people who had never heard of Jack Spiegelman were calling a San Francisco radio station to applaud his act, and many offered money for his defense. And the shooting rekindled questions over the increasingly political crime victims' movement.

Spiegelman retreated to a Bay Area home to spend the weekend with his ex-wife and parents. Reached Saturday, he turned down requests for an interview, calmly saying that he has been "under a lot of stress" and wanted to "hibernate for the weekend."

Feeling of Unfairness

However, Spiegelman did speak with The Times last year for an article about the expanding crime victims' movement. Even then it was clear that the 47-year-old father of Sarah Spiegelman could not overcome the overwhelming feeling of unfairness that while his daughter was dead, the man accused of killing her was alive. And he was driven to do something about it.

As Spiegelman told it, he had been "as apolitical as you could get" before Sarah was shot to death in March, 1983, as she sat with a friend near the Rose Garden at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. He said he had never even voted or given any consideration to whether he favored capital punishment.

He said last year that immediately after the murder, he withdrew into "a shell," and in an effort to "do something for her," he quit drinking.

But in October, 1983, seven months after his daughter's murder, he picked up a newspaper and read that Archie Fain was being paroled from prison after serving 17 years for murdering a 17-year-old boy and raping three girls near Oakdale. Fain had been on Death Row for the 1967 crimes, but his sentence was reduced to life, along with the sentences of more than 100 other Death Row inmates, when the California Supreme Court in 1972 overturned capital punishment.

"It was something I never would have read before," Spiegelman said of the Fain article. "My blood started to boil." The thought that a killer--perhaps someday his daughter's killer--could go free made him realize that "I had to do something," he said.

What Spiegelman did was join the burgeoning crime victims' movement. The movement blossomed in the 1970s in an effort to provide counseling and mutual support to victims of crime and their families. By 1983, however, it was beginning to take a new direction, as crime victims' organizations became increasingly active on the political front.

The group ultimately chosen by Spiegelman was just such an organization. The leaders of Justice for Homicide Victims had splintered from another group, Parents of Murdered Children, because they wanted to be more politically active.

Justice for Homicide Victims was founded by Ellen Dunne, the Beverly Hills mother of Dominique Dunne, an actress who was killed by her ex-boyfriend, and now claims nearly 700 members.

Spiegelman, once a copywriter for a Manhattan advertising agency, quickly made himself useful by helping write the group's brochures, as well as letters to politicians and others in support of various pieces of legislation.

Theme of Vengeance

Occasionally, he turned to the theme of vengeance in his writing. In one brochure, he reviewed a television movie about two fathers who wanted to capture and bring to justice the murderers of their children. He panned it as "Hollywood at its worst," and wrote: "This is the way it really works.

"When your kid is murdered your reaction is the same--whether you are a simple working stiff or a corporate hotshot with his own jet. That reaction is you want the murderer's life. It has nothing to do with revenge. It's called justice."

Los Angeles Times Articles