A 24-year-old transient pleaded guilty Monday to charges that he helped Canoga Park teen-ager Torran Lee Meier strangle his mother and try to poison and burn his half brother in October, 1985.
The transient, Richard A. Parker, had known Meier only three weeks when he aided him in the crime, which culminated in their pushing a flaming car containing the mother's body over a Malibu cliff, Parker's attorney said.
"He doesn't even know why he got involved," defense attorney Carol Weissman said. "He doesn't understand, himself, why he didn't just say 'no' and walk away." In entering his pleas, Parker admitted guilt to more serious offenses than the ones Meier was convicted of by a jury in June. As a result, Parker faces a far lengthier prison term than Meier, who, according to police, planned the killing and persuaded Parker and another friend to help.
Parker pleaded guilty in Van Nuys Superior Court to second-degree murder in the death of Meier's mother, Shirley A. Rizk, 34, of Canoga Park, and to attempted murder in the attack on Meier's half brother, Rory Rizk, 8.
Parker had been scheduled to go to trial this month on charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder and two counts of conspiracy to commit murder.
Agrees to Plea Bargain
Under the plea agreement, Parker faces a maximum of 22 years to life in state prison when he is sentenced Dec. 19. He could have faced 32 years to life if convicted of the more serious charges.
After a seven-week trial, Meier, 17, who was accused of the same four offenses, was found guilty of the lesser charges of voluntary manslaughter, attempted voluntary manslaughter and two counts of conspiracy to commit voluntary manslaughter. He faces a possible 13 years in prison when he is sentenced Nov. 26.
The third defendant, Matthew A. Jay, 19, of Woodland Hills, is scheduled for trial on the four charges in January. Prosecutors would not say whether he will be offered the same plea bargain.
Weissman said that Parker believes it is unfair that he stands convicted of more serious charges than Meier, but that he acknowledges his culpability. He took the offer of the plea bargain rather than risk a possible first-degree murder conviction, Weissman said.
"There was no way to guarantee that we would get a jury as sympathetic as the Meier jury," Weissman said.
Jurors said after the Meier verdict that they were convinced by testimony from relatives and friends that Meier underwent a psychological nightmare at the hands of his mother, who was depicted as verbally abusive and sexually provocative toward him.
After a lifetime of such mental duress, jurors said, Meier broke down psychologically and was not capable of the premeditation and malice necessary to sustain a murder conviction.
Defense Uses Relationship
Weissman said the Meier defense was strengthened by the "emotional involvement" between Meier and his mother, something that could not be shown to have affected Parker's judgment on the day of the killing.
Parker was aware of Meier's hostility toward his mother, but Parker himself had never met her, Weissman said.
According to testimony during the Meier trial and statements to police by Meier and Parker, the three took turns strangling Rizk, then attempted to kill Meier's half brother when he wandered in on the slaying.
After a poisoning attempt failed, Rory Rizk was placed in a burning car with his mother's body. But the boy managed to climb to safety after the vehicle was pushed over a cliff in the Malibu mountains.
Weissman described Parker as a bright but immature young man who was desperately searching for a friend. Parker latched onto Meier, Weissman said, because he hoped to spend a few nights at his home, rather than in the open parking lot behind a Woodland Hills bowling alley where he had been sleeping.
Weissman said that when Meier first approached Parker about killing his mother, Parker viewed the discussion as idle, if malicious, teen-age musing--much like planning to run away from home.
"In his mind, he didn't think it was going to happen," Weissman said. "He went there to spend the night; he thought he was going to have a place to sleep for a change."
Weissman described Parker as a mentally troubled man whose parents went through a bitter divorce when he was 4 and his sister was 6.
The children first lived with a grandmother, and Parker eventually was placed in foster care with a family in Lancaster, Weissman said. But the foster parents died in a car accident when he was 18, and he has since been on his own, she said.
"At the time of the killing, his only possessions were the clothes on his back and his bicycle," Weissman said.
Although Parker has been in and out of minor legal scrapes for several years, Weissman said, he has no history of violence. Weissman said she will cite his troubled family background at the sentencing hearing and seek the minimum sentence of 15 years to life.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Edward G. Feldman, who prosecuted Meier, said he offered the plea bargain to spare Rory Rizk the ordeal of testifying again and because he believed the sentence Parker faces is sufficient, in light of the Meier verdict.