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THE STATE

Killer of Prosecutor Is Sought

September 18, 2002|JOHN JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BAKERSFIELD — Detectives trying to solve the stabbing death of Kern County's No. 2 prosecutor said Tuesday that they are not close to an arrest, but insisted that they are aggressively following a number of leads.

Among them, Kern County Sheriff's Cmdr. Martin Williamson said, are reports that Stephen M. Tauzer may have had a house guest recently. Indicating that they have not ruled out the possibility that he was killed for something he did in the courtroom, Williamson said investigators also are looking at certain cases Tauzer handled in which one or the other party left court in a rage.

But Williamson said detectives are not focusing on any specific theory yet, or even narrowing down their inquiry to Tauzer's personal or professional life. Tauzer, a workaholic perfectionist who handled some of this area's biggest criminal cases, was stabbed at least once in the head last weekend in the garage of his northwest Bakersfield home. The Kern County coroner's office has not released the autopsy findings on specific injuries, saying only that there was other head trauma besides the stab wound. Williamson said detectives want that information held back as an investigative tool.

While the high-profile killing has shocked this neighborly oil and agricultural town and thrown a pall over the district attorney's office, authorities were at pains to make it clear this may be a difficult case to solve. "We're still in the fact-finding process," Williamson said.

Asked about reports by neighbors that Tauzer, who lived in a tree-shaded house with redwood siding, had a roommate, Williamson said, "We are hearing that, but we're not corroborating it. We've been told that in the recent past he's been living by himself."

Tauzer, 57, was unmarried and had worked for the prosecutor's office for three decades. Among his controversial cases was the investigation into corruption in the cities of Taft and Arvin. The grand jury, under Tauzer's direction, handed down indictments against the Arvin police chief, a city councilman and a top city contractor. Tauzer got convictions in two cases, but the trial of Councilman Julio Perez ended in a hung jury.

In an unrelated development, Arvin Councilman Robert Brennan, who had cooperated with Tauzer in the investigation, announced that he will resign and move out of the city. Brennan said Tauzer's slaying will cripple the continuing investigation.

The retrial of Perez is scheduled for next month, but Dist. Atty. Ed Jagels said Tauzer was not going to handle it. His health was not up to it, Jagels said. Tauzer narrowly survived a massive heart attack two years ago.

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