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D.A. Won't Prosecute in Shooting Deaths Over Mining Dispute

December 16, 1989|MICHAEL GRANBERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The San Diego County district attorney has decided not to prosecute an El Cajon man who "honestly and reasonably" believed his life was in danger and thus acted in self-defense when he shot and killed two Julian residents in a mining dispute last May.

Barring the introduction of any new evidence, Dist. Atty. Edwin L. Miller Jr. said Friday that he considers the case closed.

The Memorial Day shooting occurred at the Ready Relief mine on federal land in the Julian area, not far from the Horseshoe Curve area of California 78. Gustav Hudson, 41, his son and a friend reported hearing a gunshot before they returned fire, killing Christopher Zerbe, 34, and Edward John Lopes, 66.

Miller mailed a letter to Sheriff John Duffy on Thursday, informing him of his decision. Miller said that Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Williams had "studied (deputies') reports, visited the scene, spoken with detectives and interviewed Hudson" before making his decision.

Lt. John Tenwolde of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said Friday that he was "not at all surprised" by the decision.

"The D.A. reached the conclusion we thought he would," Tenwolde said. "We're totally in agreement with the findings of the D.A. in this case."

Tenwolde said his office submitted a 600-page report on the shooting to county prosecutors in September, without recommending a course of action.

According to the letter Miller mailed to Duffy, the facts of the case were these:

Hudson and nine other people turned off California 78 and through a gate leading across private property to the Ready Reserve mine, which is on federal land. On May 19, Hudson had recorded a gold-mining claim for the property and on May 29--the day of the shooting--was attempting to mark the claim and picnic at the site.

Hours before the shooting, Hudson's son drove his pickup truck down a narrow dirt road, en route to the claim site, when he encountered Zerbe and Lopes. A confrontation ensued after Zerbe ordered Gustav Hudson to stay off any property mined by others; in other words, to limit himself to the area of his own claim. Hudson agreed.

The groups parted, and several hours passed from "shortly before midday" to "around 5 or 5:30," when Zerbe and Lopes showed up and fired a shot at Gustav Hudson and his wife.

Hudson grabbed his AK-47 semiautomatic assault rifle; a second shot was fired by Zerbe and Lopes, and then all three men opened fire.

Zerbe's truck door opened and then Zerbe fell out, gravely wounded. Lopes remained in the truck, fatally shot through the head and chest.

Miller's letter notes that Zerbe, according to detectives, had a reputation as "a dangerous man with a weapon." An autopsy revealed that Zerbe had a blood-alcohol level of .11 % and Lopes of .10 %.

Miller concluded in his report that physical evidence backed up the statements of Hudson's family and friends. Miller wrote that homicide is justified when a person is under the "honest and reasonable belief" that a "forcible and atrocious crime" is about to be committed against them.

"The key then becomes whether (Hudson) 'honestly and reasonably' believed that he was in imminent danger of being slain," Miller wrote. "There can be little doubt on this point."

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