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Mistrial Declared for Diles in Laurel Canyon Slayings

May 31, 1990|LOIS TIMNICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After a jury favoring acquittal failed to reach a unanimous verdict, a judge declared a mistrial Wednesday for Gregory Diles, a former bodyguard accused of participating in the 1981 Laurel Canyon murders.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Curtis Rappe "reluctantly" excused the panel after each agreed with the foreman that further deliberations would not be fruitful. The jury had deadlocked 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal.

"Your job is to vote your individual consciences," Rappe told the weary jurors, who had deliberated for more than two weeks. "To force you to deliberate further really would amount to trying to coerce a verdict," the judge said.

On Tuesday, jurors informed Rappe that they could not agree on a verdict, but the judge ordered them to continue efforts to reach a verdict.

"What if we changed a couple of the jurors?" one suggested when asked by the judge if there was any way to break the impasse.

It was the second mistrial in the infamous Laurel Canyon murders. Just two weeks ago, a mistrial was declared for Diles' former boss and co-defendant, Adel (Eddie Nash) Nasrallah, a wealthy drug dealer and nightclub owner who was accused of ordering the bloody slayings in retaliation for being robbed of drugs and cash at his Studio City home.

The case was presented simultaneously to two separate juries, although evidence admissible and pertaining to only one of the defendants was heard by that defendant's jury alone. Both juries heard essentially the same case; yet the Nash jury deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of conviction.

The grisly killings in a Wonderland Avenue drug den were originally blamed on porn film star John C. Holmes, who was acquitted of the charges before his death in March, 1988. Then Nash and Diles were charged after new evidence was provided by Scott Thorson, a former lover of the late pianist and entertainer Liberace.

The victims--all bludgeoned with a metal pipe and other blunt instruments--were William Deverell, 42, Joy Miller, 46, Barbara Richardson, 22, and Ronald Launius, 37. A fifth victim, Susan Launius, who was 25 at the time, survived but suffered brain damage and has been unable to identify the assailants.

The two-month trial proceeded with a videotape of the gory, ransacked murder scene and heard testimony from denizens of an underworld of drugs, guns and big money.

The majority of Diles jurors said Wednesday that they did not believe those witnesses.

"The witnesses had no credibility, said juror Harold Lee, a Los Angeles minister, outside the courtroom. "'If their testimony had any consistency, the case would have been stronger . . . and everybody had a little ax to grind."

Juror Jenny Turner of Inglewood, a city building inspector, expressed disgust at the outcome. "We had a couple of jurors who did not want to listen to the facts in evidence, and one of them was concerned about getting back to work. The prosecution did not prove its case, and their key witnesses were the epitome of the world's worst, a real joke."

However, jury foreman Steve Billups of Westchester, a computer programmer, said he found the primary prosecution witnesses believable, even though "none of them are Boy Scouts and clearly they've made deals."

"The main points of testimony reflected things they actually remembered," Billups said. "Where there were inconsistencies, they could be due to the time lag. I don't remember where I was 10 years ago.

Likewise, juror Dewayne Bean of Inglewood, a painter for the Veterans Administration hospital, said: "I believe most of the witnesses' testimony and most of the evidence. There was opportunity; there was motive. And as we went over and over the evidence for 12 days nothing changed my mind."

Bean said he felt pressured and "I'm nervous now . . . But I thought about it, I dreamed about it, I reran it in my own mind. And I could not come to a different decision."

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys expressed disappointment at the absence of a verdict. The defense offered to stipulate to a verdict without knowing in what direction the split jury had leaned, but prosecutors said a verdict with less than 12 jurors--especially in a death penalty case like this--would likely be overturned on appeal. Deputy Dist. Atty. Dale Davidson said both Diles, 41, and Nash, 60, will be retried. A pretrial hearing for them is scheduled for for Wednesday.

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