Seven years after the bludgeoned bodies were found in a Laurel Canyon drug den, a convicted cocaine trafficker and his former bodyguard were charged Thursday with committing four grisly murders for which authorities once unsuccessfully prosecuted the late pornographic film star John C. Holmes.
Former nightclub owner Adel Nasrallah, 59, who served two years in prison on a cocaine conviction, and his one-time employee, Gregory DeWitt Diles, 40, each were charged with four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in the July 1, 1981, Laurel Canyon killings. Both are being held without bail in Los Angeles County Jail.
Because prosecutors alleged that the defendants committed multiple killings, Nasrallah, who is also known as Eddie Nash, and Diles could face the gas chamber if they are convicted.
Holmes, who died in Los Angeles last March of complications from his infection with the AIDS virus, was acquitted of the murders after a 1982 trial.
Police Lacked Proof
The crimes captured public interest not only because of Holmes' involvement, but because for years authorities publicly insisted that they knew who was responsible for the brutal slayings, but did not have enough evidence to seek charges. One woman who was at the home on Wonderland Avenue survived the beatings, but was unable to identify her assailants.
During Holmes' trial, a Los Angeles police officer testified that Holmes once said he led the killers to the Laurel Canyon home at the behest of a revenge-bent Nasrallah, who had been robbed in his home by some of the murder victims two days before. Holmes, who had served as a go-between for the drug dealers and Nasrallah, reportedly set up the robbery.
Holmes never took the witness stand, and his subsequent testimony about the killings before the Los Angeles County Grand Jury remains sealed. But his former wife, Sharon, earlier this year told The Times that Holmes had confessed his role in the killings to her less than three weeks after the crimes were committed.
'Must Be New Evidence'
"I think all of you are aware that there must be new evidence at this point, or we wouldn't be filing the charges," Deputy Dist. Atty. Dale A. Davidson told reporters after Nash and Diles appeared for arraignment in Los Angeles Municipal Court. Neither immediately entered pleas.
Davidson declined to discuss the new evidence, beyond saying that investigators have uncovered new witnesses who did not testify during Holmes' trial. Investigators spoke to Holmes twice before his death, but whatever the 43-year-old actor may have said did not prompt the filing of the new charges, a source familiar with the case told The Times.
Outside the courtroom on Thursday, Davidson told reporters: "Mr. Holmes is no longer with us, and because of that I would expect that most anything he (ever) had to say to be ruled hearsay as to Mr. Nash and Mr. Diles."
Nasrallah's attorney, Paul Caruso, who has long professed Nasrallah's innocence, told reporters he is not aware of any new evidence.
"I think there was enough pressure to want something done in this case, the threat had been repeated many times, both by the Police Department and the district attorney's office, that they were going to file (charges against Nash and Diles), and eventually they had to file to save face," Caruso said.
The attorney described Nasrallah as being "quite philosophical" about his arrest. "He's reconciled to the fact that this is a high-publicity case and that every move he makes will be well-publicized." Caruso also said it is "extremely unusual" to file charges in a murder case so long after a crime has been committed.
Nasrallah was arrested outside his Tarzana home shortly before 5 p.m. Wednesday, said Los Angeles Police Detective Tom Lange, the lead investigator on the case. Diles was picked up about a half hour later outside Club Hollywood, a nightclub on Hollywood Boulevard where, Lange said, Diles was employed. Nasrallah's club, The Seven Seas, once did business at the same location.
Served 2 Years
Nasrallah was released from state prison in September, 1984, after serving about two years of an eight-year sentence for possessing for sale about two pounds of cocaine valued at nearly $1 million. Diles had also been convicted of drug charges in a separate case.
After his acquittal in 1982, Holmes spent 110 days in Los Angeles County Jail on a contempt citation after he refused a judge's order to tell a grand jury what he knew about the Laurel Canyon killings. He finally agreed to testify on the same day that Nasrallah was sentenced to prison.
Those who died in the Wonderland Avenue house were William DeVerell, 42; Joy Audrey Miller, 46; Barbara Richardson, 22; and Ronald Launius, 37. Launius' estranged wife, Susan, who was visiting, survived the attack.
IN 1982, A VERDICT OF NOT GUILTY After a three-week trial in 1982, pornographic film star John C. Holmes was found not guilty of murdering four people in a Laurel Canyon home. One witness was Susan Launius, the sole survivor of the massacre who told the court she remembered "only shadows." After his acquittal, Holmes spent 110 days in Los Angeles County Jail for refusing to testify about the case before a grand jury. He finally relented on the day that Adel Nasrallah was sentenced to prison on the drug conviction. What Holmes told the grand jury has never been made public. Earlier this year, detectives conducted a death-bed interview with Holmes, who died in March.