Prosecutors said Friday that they will not seek the death penalty for a North Hollywood film and television makeup man charged in the February bombing deaths of two Los Angeles Police demolition experts.
Donald Lee Morse, 37, is accused of first-degree murder in the deaths of Los Angeles Police Detective Arleigh McCree, 46, commander of the department's bomb squad, and Officer Ron Ball, 43. They were killed Feb. 8 while trying to dismantle a pipe bomb found in the garage of Morse's home.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Sterling Norris said Morse still faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole if he is convicted of the charges. Norris declined to explain why prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty.
The charges include two "special circumstances" that would make him eligible for the death penalty if convicted: that more than one person was killed, and that a bomb was used.
Norris would say only that the decision came after careful evaluation. He said police were consulted before the disclosure, which came in a letter to Morse's attorney.
Police Chief Daryl F. Gates was unavailable for comment.
Two Bombs Found
Officers discovered two bombs as they searched Morse's garage for a gun they said had been used in the shooting a few days earlier of Howard Smit, 74, the business manager of the Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Union Local 706. Smit, who was hit once in the chest as he left his office, survived.
Police went to the house at 6849 Vanscoy Ave. after learning that Morse had stormed into the union office a few days earlier to complain about being fined for delinquent dues and that Morse owned a .38-caliber pistol, the kind believed to have been used in the attack on Smit. That handgun was later ruled out as the weapon used in the assault, and no one has been charged.
Morse's attorney, Pierpont M. Laidley, said he did not place much importance on the announcement. Laidley said he is in a "battle to vindicate my client" and is looking into the possibility that someone else placed the bombs in the garage with the intention of harming Morse.
Laidley has filed a motion asking San Fernando Superior Court Judge Robert D. Fratianne to determine the legal jurisdiction of the case. Laidley said he believes that the officers were killed outside the jurisdiction of the San Fernando court, and that the trial therefore should be held in either Van Nuys Superior Court or Los Angeles Superior Court.
Fratianne is scheduled to consider the motion Monday.