A Glendale woman, who testified 20 years ago that her ex-husband had tried three times to kill her, thought that her troubles were over in 1969 when he was convicted of committing two murders and sentenced to die--a case that inspired the best-selling novel "Till Death Us Do Part."
Even though her ex-husband had threatened to kill her "somehow, someday" for her testimony, Lela Halverson, now 51, remarried that year and is now celebrating her 20th wedding anniversary.
But her troubles did not end with a death sentence.
They began again in 1979 when Halverson said she learned that the ex-husband, Paul Perveler, had been granted a 1985 parole date as a result of a 1972 ruling by the California Supreme Court overturning the constitutionality of the state's death penalty.
Halverson has been fighting ever since to keep Perveler behind bars. So far, she has succeeded with the help of Assemblyman Pat Nolan (R-Glendale), who has championed her cause.
David Weilbacher of Arroyo Grande, Perveler's attorney, charges that the prisoner is being denied parole unfairly because of the notoriety that the case has achieved as a result of the popular novel and because Nolan has made it "a political issue." Weilbacher argues that Perveler's behavior "has been exemplary in prison," which makes him eligible for release.
But Halverson made her fifth trip last week to plead with the state parole board to keep Perveler locked up at the California Men's Colony at San Luis Obispo.
While her wish was granted again this time, Halverson is already steeling herself for a return trip next year, when the convicted killer will come up for his annual review for release.
Halverson said she is "terrified, absolutely terrified" that her former husband, who was convicted of murdering his second wife and the husband of his girlfriend to collect life insurance money, may soon be set free.
"I've been trying since 1979 to have something done to keep this man in prison," said Halverson, a genteel, blue-eyed, blonde secretary who takes special precautions to keep her home and work addresses secret.
"It's the unfairness of it all," she said, describing the need to testify year after year to prevent Perveler's release.
"It's as though we have to come up with new reasons every time why this man should be kept in prison when he is a convicted murderer. The whole thing is absolutely backward."
Halverson, who was married to Perveler from 1964 to 1967 when he served briefly as an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department before becoming a private investigator, said she is resigned that despite her battle, Perveler will someday be released.
"I realize that next time, they might let him go," she said, even though "I haven't really prepared for it."
In a plea before the parole board in 1986, Halverson wrote: "Knowing that he is scheduled for parole has put me in great fear for my life. There is no doubt in my mind that Perveler will kill again and that I will be his next victim."
Halverson calls her repeated trips to the parole board "traumatic experiences beyond description. I am reliving the whole horrible thing over and over and over. It is never-ending."
She also said her trips north to testify "become more difficult each time. But then, when I consider the alternative, I don't really have a choice. I don't dare not go."
Paul Perveler, 52, is one of 102 members of "The Class of '72"--prisoners who had been sentenced to die before the state Supreme Court ruling.
Included in the class is Sirhan Sirhan, who murdered Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after Kennedy won the California Democratic presidential primary. Sirhan's plea for release was also denied this year by the state Board of Prison Terms, but will be heard again next year.
State prison and parole authorities said they have not tabulated the number of convicts once sentenced to die who have been released since the 1972 ruling. However, guards and attorneys familiar with the system said prisoners with records worse than Perveler's have won parole.
Weilbacher maintains that Perveler is being treated unfairly because of the national notoriety that resulted from a fictionalized version of his crimes in the novel, published in 1978 by former Los Angeles Deputy Dist. Atty. Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted Perveler.
"Perveler had been given a parole date by the board based on all the factors, the crime, everything that was known," Weilbacher said. "Then the book came out and Nolan became involved. The simple issue deciding justice here is how many newspapers picked up the story."
Weilbacher maintains that Perveler is a victim of notoriety, along with a handful of other prisoners who have been denied parole because of "public outcry," an issue that the parole board has been required to consider as a result of state legislation written by Nolan in 1984.
It is Halverson's fear that Perveler will be released that has driven her for the last 10 years.