The scene could have come from a number of Martin Scorsese films or a low-budget thriller: a distraught man shooting his former wife point-blank in the head and emptying his gun into her felled body as horrified onlookers ran.
But on Tuesday night, the scene played not as fiction but as horrifying fact in front of shocked viewers of Los Angeles-area TV newscasts that ran a tape showing a man killing his ex-wife at a Florida cemetery in front of a tabloid-TV camera crew.
All the major commercial stations here except KABC-TV Channel 7 aired the graphic footage, and a few made it one of their top news stories.
On Wednesday, calls from angered viewers and debates among newsroom staffers had some news directors pondering the appropriateness of broadcasting the tape. One news executive expressed regret about showing the footage.
"It was tasteless and irrelevant and it didn't serve any purpose. I'm upset that we used it," said Jeff Wald, news director at KCOP-TV Channel 13, which aired the tape 40 minutes into its 10 p.m. broadcast Tuesday.
The shooting should have had no place in the news in Los Angeles, he said, explaining that he'd been told about the tape by associates but did not view it himself prior to broadcast.
But other news executives defended the decision. Warren Cereghino, news director at KTLA-TV Channel 5, said he felt the tape illustrated "the unfortunate domestic violence and emotion escalating to such a violent level."
The shooting was filmed at Queen of Heaven cemetery in suburban North Lauderdale, Fla., by a news crew for "Occurrio Asi" ("It Happened Like This"), a "Hard Copy"-like series on the Spanish-language Telemundo network.
The crew had been interviewing Emilio Nunez, who was shown placing flowers on the grave of his teen-age daughter, who committed suicide last year. Nunez, 34, of Delray Beach, told the crew that he blamed his ex-wife for the death of his daughter, saying she had abused her and slapped her when the teen-ager revealed she was pregnant.
Unexpectedly, the ex-wife, Maritza Martin Munoz, showed up at the cemetery. Cameraman Jorge Delgado and reporter Ingrid Cruz attempted to interview Munoz and followed her around, though she refused to answer questions. As they were walking, Nunez could be seen pushing Cruz out of the way and then he fired shots into Munoz's head. As she fell, Nunez continued to shoot her, circling her as he emptied the gun. He then fled.
The debate in local newsrooms over whether to air the tape, officials said, resembled the furor over the airing of a tape of a news conference in January, 1987, in which Pennyslvania State Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer, who had been convicted in a bribery scandal and faced the possibility of a life behind bars, shot himself before television cameras.
KABC-TV Channel 7, the top-rated local station in news ratings, was the only outlet that opted against running the Miami footage.
"It was gratuitous violence that didn't belong in the newscast," said Roger Bell, KABC's news director, who credited assistant news director Jim Hattendorf with the decision. "It had no significance to our local audience. It was just a piece of video."
Jose Rios, news director at KTTV-TV Channel 11, conceded that competing stations' airing of the tape played a role in KTTV's decision to go with it at 10 p.m. He said he might not even have been aware of the video if he hadn't seen it on another station earlier in the day.
"You can't argue that it was important for our audience to see it, but it was interesting because it was a part of real life," Rios said. "And in terms of what was actually on the tape . . . though it was shocking, it wasn't gory. It was violent, but it was a bit more sanitized than a lot of other things we've seen."
KTLA's Cereghino also noted that the tape was "not gory. Had there been blood spurting out of her head and had the camera been right on top of her showing the bullets going in, that would have been another story."
Channels 5, 11 and 13 played the tape late in their newscasts and warned viewers that what was about to be shown would be graphic and disturbing. But several stations, including Channel 5 and KCBS-TV Channel 2, did not specifically tell viewers that they would be shown a killing.
Kerry Oslund, executive producer of the 9 p.m. newscast at KCAL-TV Channel 9, said his station aired the tape not as a news story, but as an "ethical debate" on whether such footage should be shown on television --"how much is too much and how far is too far?"
"It did not pass the litmus test by itself of being a news story," Oslund said. "The only inherent value it had was one of shock value. On any given day, we would not tell you about a murder that happened in Florida."
Oslund said Wednesday that there was "still a debate in the newsroom about whether we did the right thing. But there was only one way to do it, which was to present it the way we did."
Of the three major TV networks, only "NBC Nightly News" aired the tape on its evening news Tuesday. The Telemundo network ran it, but its Spanish-language rival, Univision, did not because, a spokesman said, they found it undignified and inappropriate.
Greg Braxton is a Times staff writer. Steve Weinstein is a free - lance writer.