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Murder Trial Opens : Lawyer Says Client Killed Youth to Protect 'Castle'

July 22, 1987|JAN KLUNDER | Times Staff Writer

A Woodland Hills man on trial for murder in the shooting death of a teen-ager he found in his home was described Tuesday as a refugee from a communist country who was protecting his "castle" from an intruder.

Peter Atanasov, 37, fled Bulgaria when he was 17 because, no matter how hard he worked, he could not improve his life behind the Iron Curtain, his attorney, Mitchell W. Egers, said in an opening statement in Van Nuys Superior Court.

In America, the carpenter, who arrived with only $3 in his pocket, eventually realized his dream of owning a home, the attorney said.

So, when Atanasov arrived home the evening of June 24, 1986, and discovered the young man in his darkened house, he feared that his "castle" was being burglarized, Egers said. Atanasov chased the man across the street and fired several shots wildly into the bushes in the 4600 block of Canoga Avenue, police said.

Body Found by Jogger

At no time did Atanasov know the identity of the person he was chasing, Egers told the jury, nor did he realize that his shots had struck their mark. Early the next morning, a jogger discovered the body of Dane Kimball, 18, in the shrubbery, shot in the head.

Although the law, under some circumstances, permits shooting at someone fleeing the scene of a felony, the Atanasov case is complicated by two factors.

First, Atanasov had threatened to kill the victim, the boyfriend of Atanasov's 15-year-old stepdaughter, unless he stayed away from the girl, Deputy Dist. Atty. Larry Diamond said in his opening statement Tuesday.

Atanasov would have recognized Kimball's bright-red hair and probably knew the identity of the man he was pursuing, the prosecutor argued at the conclusion of a preliminary hearing in October.

Second, even if he did not know the man was Kimball, Diamond said Tuesday, Atanasov strayed outside the law by shooting someone who had stopped fleeing and was crouching in the brush.

"He was not attacking anyone, he was not threatening anyone, he was not running away," the prosecutor told the jury. "He was simply hiding behind a bush, trying to conceal himself."

The shots, Diamond asserted, were fired for one reason: "to kill Dane Kimball."

Defense attorney Egers said the Atanasovs at one time treated Kimball hospitably. But, after Atanasov caught Kimball trying to steal some keys and discovered that he had spent the night with his stepdaughter, "he was an unwelcome young man in the house," the attorney said.

As a boy in Bulgaria, Atanasov listened to radio broadcasts by the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corp. and dreamed of making a new life in a free country, Egers said.

"The dream was to go someplace where his efforts would be rewarded . . . to have a house, a castle," Egers said. "That dream turned into reality."

Only by knowing Atanasov's background, Egers said, could jurors understand why he grabbed a gun and pursued the intruder.

"His intention was to apprehend him and recover whatever property he had taken," Egers said.

The trial, in the courtroom of Judge Alan B. Haber, is expected to conclude in about two weeks.

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