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Ex-Teacher Gets 54 Years in Death of Simi Officer

Courts: Term includes nine years for trying to kill police who sought to aid wounded comrade. 'The defendant has absolutely no remorse,' judge says.

March 18, 1997|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — Former schoolteacher Daniel Allan Tuffree was sentenced to 54 years to life in prison Monday for shooting a Simi Valley police officer to death and trying to kill another officer in an August 1995 gunfight.

The sentence effectively ensures that Tuffree, 50, will spend the rest of his life behind bars for killing Officer Michael Clark and firing at authorities who tried to rescue Clark.

Superior Court Judge Allan L. Steele said the fact that Tuffree armed himself and would not allow police to reach the fallen officer weighed heavily in his decision, as did Tuffree's demeanor in the months that followed.

"The defendant has absolutely no remorse for what he did," Steele said.

As the judge spoke, Simi Valley Police Chief Randy Adams nodded approvingly and Clark's widow, Jenifer, shook her fist in a sign of victory.

"I think it is going to help everyone to move on," Clark said as she stood beside her family outside the courtroom.

Deputy Public Defender Howard Asher said he was not surprised by the sentence, but disappointed. "Steele thought what he did was right," Asher said. "I disagree."

During two trials, Asher argued that Tuffree was an emotionally troubled man who wanted to be left alone, but was drawn into a confrontation by police.

Authorities were sent to Tuffree's home to check his well-being after reports that he was drinking alcohol, taking Valium and had stopped answering the phone.

When Clark confronted Tuffree outside his kitchen window, a gunfight broke out that left the 28-year-old officer mortally wounded and police unable to rescue him as Tuffree continued to shoot at them.

Asher said Tuffree fired on Clark only after the officer shot at him--a theory that Judge Steele agreed with. He found Tuffree guilty of second-degree murder--not first-degree murder as prosecutors wanted--during a court trial in January.

That ruling touched off a courtroom outburst as Jenifer Clark screamed at Tuffree and the fallen officer's uncle lunged at him.

No such outbursts occurred Monday, however, as five Ventura County sheriff's deputies carefully guarded the courtroom packed with Clark's relatives and fellow police officers.

Before he imposed the sentences, Steele listened to several of the friends and relatives closest to Clark.

"He was my best friend, he was my sweetheart, he was my husband," a tearful Jenifer Clark told the judge. She begged him to impose a life sentence on behalf of her 2-year-old son, Bayley, who she said will grow up without a father.

However, Clark and half a dozen relatives and police officers who attended the emotional two-hour hearing appeared satisfied with the conclusion of the roller-coaster case, which ended in a mistrial last October and then the second-degree murder conviction in January.

Tuffree was ordered to serve a minimum of 25 years to life in prison for killing Clark, plus nine years for trying to kill Officer Michael Pierce.

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