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Penalty Phase Opens in Joe Hunt Murder Trial

May 12, 1987|LOIS TIMNICK | Times Staff Writer

The penalty phase in the murder trial of Billionaire Boys Club leader Joe Hunt--in which jurors will recommend either death or life in prison without parole for the former boy tycoon--began Monday with the defense arguing that sending Hunt to the gas chamber would be unfair because his victim's body has never been found.

"Never in the history of this state has a man been put to death in a case where no body has been found," said lead defense attorney Arthur Barens in his opening statement in Santa Monica Superior Court. "I'm asking you to consider the tragedy that has already happened in Joe Hunt's life and not to add to that tragedy by state-sanctioned murder."

Hunt, 27, was convicted last month of first-degree murder, with special circumstances, in the shotgun slaying of Beverly Hills con man Ron Levin, who disappeared three years ago.

Prosecutor's Intent

Deputy Dist. Atty. Fred Wapner told the jury that during the three-week proceedings the prosecution will introduce "evidence of three other criminal acts engaged in by the defendant and Mr. Pittman." Jim Pittman, Hunt's former bodyguard, will be retried this summer in the murder of Levin; his first trial ended with a hung jury.

The three alleged acts that Wapner referred to are the shooting up of a business associate's office, the throwing of acid in another associate's face, and the 1984 kidnap-murder of wealthy Iranian Hedayat Eslaminia in Northern California.

Barens, whom Hunt unsuccessfully tried to fire last week, called the death penalty arbitrary and unfair. He noted that even Klaus Barbie, the so-called Butcher of Lyon whose trial in France began Monday, would not, if convicted, face death.

Defense Tactics

He said he will show that Hunt was tormented and deceived by Levin--"dashing the perhaps misdirected dreams Hunt had"--and that he was under pressure and economic tension.

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