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Valley Man Who Killed Tagger Gets Probation : Courts: William Masters is ordered to remove graffiti and surrender his guns. Protesters call sentence unjust.

November 09, 1995|EFRAIN HERNANDEZ JR. | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VAN NUYS — William A. Masters II, who shot and killed one graffiti vandal in Sun Valley last January and wounded another in a case that roused a national debate, was sentenced Wednesday to spend 30 days removing graffiti and three years on probation--and give up his guns.

Protesters outside the courtroom continued to call for Masters to be tried and imprisoned for murder--an option prosecutors rejected months ago, saying Masters acted in self-defense.

Masters' case exploded onto the national talk-radio circuit and commentary pages, areas where he drew widespread support, much of it from gun owners and anti-crime and anti-graffiti forces who praised him as a law-abiding citizen who stood up to menacing street thugs. Critics called him a racist vigilante, contending that he shot the two Latino youths needlessly because he was a gun nut who prowled the streets with a pistol late at night, looking for trouble.

Masters, 35, was convicted last month on two misdemeanor counts--carrying a concealed firearm in public and carrying a loaded firearm in public.

The graffiti-removal portion of his sentence is a common community service ordered in many misdemeanor cases.

Municipal Judge Lloyd Nash also sentenced Masters to attend the 10-hour Hospital and Morgue Program in which participants view victims of violent crimes in an emergency room and visit a morgue to witness an autopsy.

Nash ordered that Masters' 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol be destroyed and banned him from possessing any firearm or other dangerous weapon while on probation.

Masters, an activist for the right of citizens to bear arms and who previously ran afoul of the law in Texas for carrying swords in the street, has repeatedly said he would not allow himself to be disarmed.

Masters said after the sentencing that he was unsure what he would do with what he described as his "small collection" of weapons.

"That's something I'm going to have to take care of," he said.

The sentence included four days of incarceration, but that refers to time Masters had already spent in jail.

"Nothing happened that we weren't expecting," Masters said outside the courtroom.

But protesters called the sentence a miscarriage of justice.

"He should be brought up for charges of first-degree murder. What does this say to the family of a dead youth?" said Daniel Ruiz, a member of a group known as the Four Winds Student Movement, in the corridor outside the courtroom.

"The truth is he killed a kid. How many more kids have to die?"

A coalition of Latino attorneys has also protested the decision not to prosecute Masters on more serious charges.

Masters killed Cesar Rene Arce, 18, and wounded David Hillo, now 21, in a confrontation just after midnight Jan. 31 under a Hollywood Freeway overpass. Masters said that when he encountered the youths painting graffiti, he wrote down the license number of their car. They demanded he surrender the paper and his wallet, and he pulled his pistol and opened fire when Hillo threatened him with a screwdriver, he said.

Masters, who was not licensed to carry a gun, shot Arce through the back of the chest, fatally wounding him. Hillo was hit in the buttocks.

Hillo conceded that he was holding a screwdriver, but denied threatening Masters. He was given brief hospital treatment for his wound and released. He was later sentenced to 20 days in jail, 60 days of graffiti removal and three years probation for trespassing.

Although Masters was held for investigation of the shootings, the district attorney's office refused to prosecute him, declaring he had acted in self-defense. The case was turned over to the city attorney's office, which prosecutes misdemeanors, to deal with the gun charges.

Masters said later that he enjoyed taking long walks late at night in his high-crime neighborhood, and repeatedly said he intended to continue doing so, despite the shooting.

Masters' lawyer, C. D. (Chuck) Michel, denied that Masters was out looking for trouble the night he found Arce and Hillo.

"Mr. Masters is not a vigilante," Michel said. "He's just somebody who did not want to be a victim."

George A. Schell, the deputy city attorney who prosecuted the case, sought a sentence of at least 90 days in jail and 90 days of graffiti removal. He said Wednesday that Masters showed no remorse and was "somewhat boastful."

"I think [the case] typifies why bringing back the Wild West is not right," Schell said. "The notion of everyone going around with loaded, concealed firearms, I think, sends a bad message."

During the court proceedings Wednesday, Masters questioned the judge about his sentence.

"Does that mean I have to give away my weapons I already own?" Masters asked. "Do I have to clear out my house?"

Responded Nash:

"I told you we're not treating you any different from anyone else."

Masters and Michel reiterated their belief that California's concealed-weapons laws are unconstitutional, an argument rejected by Nash. The judge also disagreed with arguments that Masters needed to hide his weapon because he feared he might be attacked by mistake if police found him with a loaded gun, and out of fear that gang members might assault him.

"People are afraid of crime," Masters said. "Obviously, if I didn't feel vulnerable without a gun I wouldn't have had a gun that night."

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