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Orange County | DANA PARSONS

He's Still Mr. Least-Likely-to-Succeed

November 30, 2001|DANA PARSONS

He is one of life's losers. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade with a string of Ds and Fs tailing behind. He joined the Marines, but all he got out of it was a dishonorable discharge from the Corps and a venereal disease from a prostitute.

By his late 20s, he thought his boss wanted to castrate him and that his wife was having affairs with the Black Panthers. He moved to California and had eight menial jobs between 1972 and 1976. His trail to nowhere ended horribly in July 1976, when, as a 37-year-old custodian, he gunned down nine people, killing seven, in basement offices on the Cal State Fullerton campus.

Now, at 62, Edward Allaway is in an Orange County courtroom asking for a break. He wants a semblance of a normal life, he says, if only to salvage something out of the mess he's made of everything else.

Two marriages, an uncounted number of delusions, three state hospitals, 50-some psychiatrists and psychologists, seven killings.

Life doesn't hand out breaks to people like Allaway.

It strikes me that the chances of Superior Court Judge Frank F. Fasel handing him one is even less.

Yet, while watching Allaway for about four of the nine hours he testified, the issue seemed whether the judge would be granting limited freedom not to a killer, but to a lost soul.

Most likely, Allaway would be sent to a board-and-care facility where he wouldn't know anyone. His friends and support group would be whatever staff members or other friends he could make. His track record on doing that kind of thing--whether in society or in mental hospitals--has been spotty, testimony suggests. When prosecutor Daniel Wagner asked Allaway what he'd do if he couldn't find a job, Allaway said he'd volunteer somewhere.

It sounded more poignant than practiced.

Allaway, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity, has been in mental hospitals most of the 25 years since the shootings. At least twice before, local judges have denied his requests to be transferred to less restrictive facilities.

You sense his current bid is a grand waste of time, because Fasel would need both a legal reason and an inordinate amount of personal courage to allow Allaway out of the state hospital.

Two factors merge, however, to make Fasel's decision intriguing. First, Allaway's trial verdict makes him eligible for release when he's no longer considered insane. This year, some doctors at Patton State Hospital, where he's now housed, have argued just that. Second, no one can predict that Allaway would ever kill again.

There's a "yes, but" to that second point, though. It came late Thursday morning on the witness stand from David Sheffner, an Orange County psychiatrist who first examined Allaway in early 1977, six months after the killing spree. This year, Sheffner reviewed Allaway's record in the intervening 24 years.

Allaway wouldn't be dangerous at all, Sheffner testified, if he never had another paranoid delusional psychotic episode. And it's possible, the doctor said, that he never will. In fact, he hasn't since the Cal State rampage.

The problem, Sheffner said, is that no one in the field of forensic medicine could predict "with any practical degree of usefulness" the long-term prospects for someone with Allaway's history.

But if Allaway were to have another episode, Sheffner said, "he would be extremely dangerous."

Sheffner added to the intrigue by noting that it's unusual that Allaway hasn't been psychotic during the last 20 years, especially when considering that he hasn't been medicated over the years.

If that leads you to think Allaway was faking it all along, Sheffner testified that he was "clearly grossly psychotic for a substantial period of time" leading up to the shooting rampage.

"Can you say he won't be again?" Deputy D.A. Wagner asked.

"That is the $64 question," Sheffner replied. "Both those who argue for his release and his detention are in the same scientific boat. The answer to the question, firmly, is 'We don't know.' "

The easy thing for Judge Fasel to do is to send Allaway back to Patton and forget about him. The hard thing will be to ignore public opinion and rule that a closely supervised setting for Allaway squares with the terms of his original sentence and the law.

I don't know if Allaway can count his life's triumphs on one hand. I doubt, however, that in his heart of hearts, he's expecting Fasel to hand him one now.


Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to

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