SANTA ANA — Prosecutors filed murder charges Friday against a former Marine in six slayings, including one case in which another man was wrongfully sent to prison for 17 years.
Investigators identified Gerald Parker, a state prison inmate, as the elusive "bludgeon killer" after a new system of genetic testing helped link him to attacks on young women who were raped and bashed in their Orange County homes in the late 1970s.
Police and Navy officials said they are investigating whether Parker may be responsible for even more killings across the country. He spent 7 1/2 years in the Marine Corps, including stints at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station as well as at bases in North Carolina, Alaska and Mississippi, before he was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl in 1980.
That was the same year another Marine, Kevin Lee Green of Tustin, then 22, was convicted of second-degree murder in a bludgeoning attack on his pregnant 21-year-old wife that led to the death of their unborn baby.
Parker, who could face the death penalty if convicted, confessed last Friday to the attack on Green's wife, police sources say. Green, now 38, was freed from custody Thursday as a judge and prosecutors apologized for the mistake.
"You can never get back those 17 years. All of us obviously feel very bad that this took place," said Orange County Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi. "Our justice system is not 100% perfect, but it's as close to perfect as you're going to find anywhere in this world."
The Green case blew open this year while investigators from Tustin and Costa Mesa were working on a cluster of unsolved murder cases--the killings and sexual assaults of women ages 17 to 31 that had baffled them for years.
The detectives had learned of a new state database that can match DNA from convicted criminals to evidence from unsolved crimes, and they lobbied the Orange County sheriff's crime lab to run their cases.
Investigators said they made five matches--all to Parker--with the help of new technology that allowed them to compare evidence such as body fluid stains from crime scenes to the database records of 34,000 convicted felons.
The Orange County Sheriff's Department had just begun using the new system--known as the short tandem repeats technique--in March. The lab is one of three in the nation capable of such a task, Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates said.
"We were completely amazed," said Frank Fitzpatrick, the sheriff's forensic science director. "Not only did we get a hit in the database, but it was linked to all of these cases."
That led the detectives June 14 to travel to the Avenal State Prison in the Central Valley, where Parker was imprisoned for a parole violation and getting ready for release next month. During interviews, he admitted attacking Green's wife, Dianna D'Aiello, and several killings, police said.
D'Aiello was comatose for a month after the 1979 attack and suffered significant memory loss, but testified against her husband. Jurors said Green's alibi--that he was out getting a cheeseburger at the time of the attack--"just wasn't believable."
Green had maintained his innocence over the years, and had been a model inmate, most recently at the Correctional Training Facility at Soledad, where he worked as a warden's secretary and coordinated the prison Christmas party.
Ronald G. Brower, Green's attorney, said his client left the state immediately after Thursday's court hearing and flew home to the Midwest to be reunited with his family.
Brower said his client is still "in a fog."
"He didn't understand what was happening [at Thursday's court hearing]. I explained to him that he was going to be a free man," Brower said. "He asked me, 'Do you think it will be all right if I leave the state?' "
After the judge told him he was free to leave, Brower said that Green "just stood up and turned in circles."
"He is not resentful. He believes everybody proceeded in good faith," Brower said, adding that his client had no plans to sue for damages resulting from his wrongful conviction.
At a news conference Friday, police and prosecutors announced the new charges against Parker and revealed some of the soul-searching that has gone on since they realized that Green had been the victim of a terrible mistake.
Gates said that when he learned about the Green case, "I felt happy and I felt terrible. My stomach went 'boom.' My first words were, 'I'm glad it wasn't my brother.' "
But based on the case they had at the time and with assurances by experts that D'Aiello was a credible witness, Capizzi said police and prosecutors acted correctly.
Even back in 1979, investigators believed that the attack on D'Aiello may have been linked to five murders in Orange County. But eventually, Tustin detectives shifted their focus to Green.
Meanwhile, D'Aiello and her family remained stunned by the turn of events Friday. The 36-year-old woman remained secluded with her mother in Riverside.
"I'm going through it," D'Aiello said, declining further comment.