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Mistrial Declared in Firebombing Case Against Mercenary

November 22, 1986|JANE APPLEGATE | Times Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES — An office clerk who refused to be swayed by his 11 fellow jurors forced a mistrial Friday in the U.S. government's firebombing case against an Alabama mercenary camp owner.

Frank J. Camper, 40, his girlfriend, Lee Ann Faulk, 26, and friend, William Hedgcorth, 23, were indicted in May on conspiracy and firebombing charges in connection with the destruction of two cars in San Bernardino County last year.

Camper admitted that he was hired by two Dana Point schoolteachers to provide some "unconventional security," but he insisted throughout the four-week trial that he was not responsible for the Aug. 13, 1985, firebombings. No one was hurt in the incidents, but the intended targets were vehicles owned by former employees of school operators Charlotte Wyckoff, 52, and Elizabeth Hamilton, 39. Wyckoff and Hamilton previously pleaded guilty to reduced charges for their role in the attacks and are due to be sentenced next month.

Favored Acquittal All Along

Early Friday, the jury informed U.S. District Judge Alicemarie H. Stotler that they could not reach a verdict. Stotler asked them to continue deliberating, but after a brief attempt, they returned and asked to be dismissed.

Edward Gonzales, the lone holdout, said he favored acquittal throughout the five days of deliberation because he did not believe testimony by the government's witnesses. Two of Camper's former associates agreed to testify against him.

"The jury was flip-flopping all over the place," said Gonzales, who works for a Los Angeles automotive supply company. "I just went down line for not guilty."

Camper did not comment after hearing that the jury had given up, but he smiled and kissed his attorney on the cheek.

"I came out here sick, I could hardly walk and was told it was a hopeless case," said Walter M. Henritze Jr., Camper's Atlanta, Ga., defense lawyer, referring to a foot injury he had sustained. "If you don't think this is a triumph in criminal law, what is?" Henritze said he was not sure whether he would return for the second trial, which was scheduled for Feb. 10, 1987, but he told Stotler that he would try to continue representing Camper. So far, Camper's defense has cost his family $14,000, Henritze said.

The two government prosecutors expressed disappointment over the jury's failure to convict Camper and his friends.

"It's like leading the Indy 500 for 199 laps and getting a flat tire in the last half-mile," said Assistant U.S. Atty. David W. Wiechert.

Charles J. Stevens, his co-counsel, said it was difficult to be too disappointed since 11 members of the jury sided with the government and had voted to convict the trio.

Shunned Deliberations

Jurors said Gonzales refused to participate in the deliberations.

"We talked our heads off," said Kathy Green of Sun Valley. "The evidence meant nothing to him. He was like a brick wall."

Another juror said that at various times the group tried to cajole and threaten Gonzales into changing his mind, but nothing worked. She said Gonzales refused to believe that a professional soldier of fortune like Camper would be involved in the botched firebombing of two cars.

The cars were destroyed when plastic milk containers filled with a mixture of oil, soap and gasoline were detonated, according to trial testimony.

Camper attracted worldwide attention last year as the owner of a controversial mercenary training school in the backwoods of Hueytown, Ala. A licensed firearms dealer, Camper taught classes in self-defense, surveillance, escape tactics and explosives. The FBI credited Camper with providing information leading to the arrest of a group of Sikh extremists plotting to assassinate India's Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi during a visit by Gandhi to the United States. The Sikhs had graduated from Camper's school a few weeks before their arrest.

A Vietnam veteran, Camper claims to have worked as an undercover agent for the U.S. government since his discharge by the Army in 1969. He maintained in an interview recently that he was actually on a secret mission for a government agency when he was hired by Wyckoff and Hamilton to teach six former employees a lesson. The women previously operated a chain of private schools in Orange and San Bernardino counties.

In the hall outside the court room, Gonzales approached Faulk, Camper's girlfriend and said: "You either were so brilliant to make it look that dumb, or you were dumber than I would ever be."

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