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Deadlock : 4 Hung Juries Leave Murder of Altadena Couple Unsolved

July 14, 1988|BERKLEY HUDSON | Times Staff Writer

The prosecutor, clearly troubled, rose to face the judge in Pasadena Superior Court.

This moment, Deputy Dist. Atty. William E. Holliman said Tuesday, marked the most difficult court appearance in his 22 years with the district attorney's office.

Although Holliman said he was certain of the guilt of the defendant, who sat at attention in a powder-blue vest and dress pants, the prosecutor said his office would not seek a fifth murder trial for Harles Hamilton.

As Holliman's face tensed, relief swept across the face of the 29-year-old Hamilton, who has spent most of the last four years in jail. Since December 1984, he had been charged with the murder of an elderly Altadena couple, David and Bertha Goldman.

They were found bound together and beaten to death in their house in a manicured neighborhood of winding streets near the Altadena Town and Country Club. David Goldman, 77, was a prominent Pasadena attorney and a Jewish lay leader at the local and international level. Bertha Goldman, 74, was a retired school teacher.

On four occasions, including last week, juries had deadlocked over Hamilton's guilt or innocence. His fingerprints were not found at the scene, nor did any witnesses testify they saw him there. Still, prosecutors said the mountain of circumstantial evidence warranted a conviction.

But after four years, the People of the State of California vs. Harles E. Hamilton was over. Judge Coleman A. Swart dismissed all charges in the case, described by everyone involved as tragic, frustrating, unforgettable and strange.

Legal experts noted that it was rare for a person to be tried four times, rarer still for all four trials to end with hung juries.

"Bizarre things have happened that I can't talk about," Holliman said. Events surrounding the case, he said, would make a soap opera seem undramatic.

"It could be 'L.A. Law,' " the judge acknowledged.

"There's been a new twist with every trial," said defense attorney William E. Turner.

One week after the murders, the other major suspect, Calvin Dean, killed himself with a single shot from a .38-caliber revolver when sheriff's deputies approached to arrest him on a street in Altadena.

While giving investigators an amazingly detailed description of the murders, Hamilton blamed the Goldman killings on Dean, a close associate whom he had seen the night of the crime.

Furthermore, what Hamilton said Dean told him helped police solve another murder in North Hollywood. Dean's fingerprints were found on a louver in the house where Lillian Charig had been slain a month earlier.

In another dramatic turn of events, Dr. Donald M. Trockman was found dead of an overdose of heroin and morphine last October. A well-known forensic psychiatrist and expert witness on drugs, he had testified during the Hamilton trials about the effect of drugs on Dean.

To complicate matters further in the latest trial, Rayford Fountain, one of Hamilton's two attorneys, was indicted in March on charges that he had asked a jail-house informant to falsify testimony in the case. The informant never testified. Fountain denies the charges.

Before the fourth trial, Judge Swart concluded that despite Fountain's request to be removed from the case, the court-appointed attorney should continue to defend Hamilton. The defendant agreed.

Jury deliberations created unusual situations as well. In the fourth trial, after six full days of deliberation, a juror who was nine months pregnant asked to be relieved of her duties. This would have meant that an alternate would take her place and that the jury, then deadlocked 11-1 for acquittal, would have to begin its consideration anew.

After the judge and attorneys talked with the woman, she agreed to deliberate one day more. The next day, Swart declared a mistrial on the basis of a hung jury.

But he did so only after taking a step he had never taken before in his six years as a judge. He gave written comments to the jury about the evidence, asking questions that seem to indicate he thought Hamilton was guilty. Alluding to Hamilton's admission that he sold items from the Goldmans' house the day after the murder, Swart asked, "Who had the property taken in the burglary?" and "Who knew the details of the murders?"

After the trial, the judge said that although the evidence was circumstantial and complicated for a jury to understand, it was sufficient for conviction.

In some of the trials, according to defense attorneys and prosecutors, jurors questioned whether Hamilton, a black, was being treated fairly.

'Racial Element'

"Jurors have reported to us a racial element has been a factor in deliberations," said James E. Rogan, the other of the two prosecutors. "That is what necessitated us to try this case multiple times because we have tried to eliminate that (racial bias) factor."

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