A Fullerton pawnbroker who shot his estranged wife and her lawyer at his shop three years ago, leaving both of them permanently injured, was acquitted of all charges in the incident by a Superior Court jury Tuesday.
The jurors, who deliberated for parts of eight days, told lawyers later that they were swayed by unrefuted psychiatric testimony that pawnbroker Victor Pahl was not consciously aware of what he was doing at the time he fired the shots.
Pahl, who never denied shooting the victims, was charged with attempted murder after the May 6, 1985, incident involving Deanna Stone, who later divorced Pahl, and her divorce lawyer, Murphy Swain.
But jurors acquitted Pahl of all charges, including lesser charges of attempted manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon.
Three psychiatrists and a psychologist testified that Pahl was generally in a "zombie-like" state when he shot them. Pahl said that his mind went blank and that he doesn't remember the shooting.
Following Tuesday's verdict, Stone's father and brother stormed out of the courtroom in anger.
"It wasn't Victor Pahl who was in a zombie-like state, it was this jury," said Stone's father, Robert Stone of Brea. "I hope they have a merry Christmas," he added bitterly. "I know we certainly will."
Robert Stone and his son, Jeff Stone, were also upset because deputy marshals in Judge James J. Alfano's courtroom searched them for weapons before allowing them inside to hear the jury's verdict.
"We aren't the ones who go around shooting people," Jeff Stone said.
Pahl, 46, has been free on $75,000 bail. But he was escorted by deputy marshals out a back door of the courtroom to avoid the Stones. The jurors were also allowed to mingle with attorneys in the courtroom, with the door locked, until after the Stones had left the parking lot.
"I'm happy for Victor," said his attorney, William Yacobozzi. "I have a lot of respect for him. He's a hard-working guy, who had just one bad moment."
Deanna Stone's father and brother argued that Pahl is dangerous and should not be turned free with such a violent temper.
But Yacobozzi said, "This was a unique, one-time incident."
Pahl's business on Harbor Boulevard at Commonwealth Avenue in downtown Fullerton is considered one of the largest pawn brokerages in the state. Divorce papers showed that Pahl had turned it into a multimillion-dollar operation.
The couple were married in 1982. Testimony from both Stone and Pahl showed that it had been a stormy marriage, with heavy drug use and many physical altercations. She left their La Habra Heights home about two months before the shooting.
Argument in Pawnshop
The day the shooting occurred, she and Swain were at the pawnshop taking inventory with two appraisers. Pahl came in later, according to court testimony. He and his estranged wife got into an argument.
Pahl said something about how he would settle it, testimony showed, then he reached into a drawer for a .357-caliber Magnum handgun.
He felled Stone with one shot as she ran away, according to the same testimony. Swain, who was on the ground with his feet in the air in attempt to protect himself, was shot twice. Several people in the shop witnessed the shootings, and Pahl has never denied that he shot them.
Stone has since had surgery and is only able to walk because of an artificial hip, her family said. Swain suffered permanent paralysis in his left hand, which was visible to jurors at the eight-week trial.
Despite Tuesday's acquittal, Pahl's troubles are far from over. Both Stone, 26, and Swain, 31, have lawsuits pending against him, both claiming permanent physical injury and severe emotional distress.
Stone's family said she was also in the process of taking Pahl to court over back alimony and child-support payments. She has custody of their 4-year-old daughter.
But Yacobozzi said later that the issue of payments has been resolved.
Deputy Dist. Atty. William D. Gallagher did not hide his disappointment at the verdict.
"I could see it coming," he said. "When you have the weight of the psychiatric community against you, it's tough. But I am extremely disappointed at this."
One of the three psychiatrists who testified was appointed by the court. The other two were hired by the defense. They based their evaluations in part on a report filed by a fourth psychiatrist--also appointed by the court--who did not testify. A psychologist hired by the defense testified in support of the psychiatrists' conclusions that Pahl was not criminally responsible.
The jurors were escorted out a back door by the courtroom bailiff and indicated to him that they preferred not to discuss the case with reporters.
Pahl was in Orange County Jail for 11 months after the incident, until his bail was reduced. But he has been working at the pawnshop seven days a week since then.
Yacobozzi said Pahl is "extremely remorseful" about the shootings.
"But that doesn't mean he was criminally responsible," the defense attorney said.