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Attorney Is Shot as TV Cameras Roll

The gunman, apparently enraged over a probate case, is videotaped firing at opposing counsel outside the Van Nuys courthouse. The shooter is tackled by a Traffic Court judge.

November 01, 2003|Andrew Blankstein and Monte Morin | Times Staff Writers

An enraged man shot and critically wounded an opposing lawyer outside the Van Nuys courthouse Friday as news crews covering an unrelated event captured the bloody attack on videotape.

The gunman, who was tackled and wrestled to the pavement by a Traffic Court judge, was identified as William Strier, 64, of Thousand Oaks. The victim, Gerald E. Curry, 53, of Simi Valley, suffered gunshot wounds to the neck and chest. They had been scheduled to appear in a contentious probate case in Los Angeles County Superior Court shortly after the shooting.

Witnesses and news crews said the incident began around 10:20 a.m. as Strier, a portly man in a tan jacket, made his way toward the courthouse beside Curry, who was wearing a dark suit and carrying a briefcase. The men appeared to be arguing, and witnesses said Strier suddenly shoved the other man and began shouting.

"That's what you get for stealing my money," Strier yelled before he pulled a snub-nosed revolver from his jacket pocket and began firing at Curry, according to Court TV cameraman Daniel Diaz.

"The first time he shot him, he shot him twice," said witness Sunny Kang. "Everyone started running."

A group of news cameramen and reporters was assembled in the area, awaiting developments in the Robert Blake murder case. They began taping the incident after the first shots, and panned across the courthouse walkway as the victim dashed behind a small tree for cover. The gunman followed.

As in a deadly game of tag, the gunman tried repeatedly to reach around the tree and fire at the lawyer, who scrambled around the tree for protection, raising clouds of dust. After several more shots, the gunman can be seen on videotapes placing the pistol back in his pocket and turning away from the tree.

"He started walking away like nothing happened," Kang said.

As the gunman walked briskly away, eyeing the crowd from behind thick glasses, the lawyer stepped away from the tree, his arms raised at the elbows and his face smeared with blood.

"The victim seemed OK for a moment, then he collapsed to the ground," said Brian Oxman, a Court TV legal commentator.

As the gunman continued to walk from the scene with a dark bag hanging from his shoulder, cameramen walked beside him, keeping him in their view. "People turned away like nothing was wrong," Oxman said. "He didn't fool our cameraman and the police."

As security officers and others began running to the scene, the cameraman closest to the gunman raised his free hand above his head and began pointing at the attacker. Video footage shows that, seconds later, a man in a white shirt and dark pants ran toward the gunman, grabbing him in a headlock and folding him toward the pavement. Other bystanders quickly piled on top of the gunman.

"After he was subdued, he was very docile," said John Kerr, a Calabasas attorney who witnessed the episode.

The man who tackled Strier, David Katz, 40, is a Traffic Court judge who also works as a corporate attorney and serves as a reserve deputy for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

"I'll recommend him for an award," said Capt. Tom Martin, commander of the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station in Calabasas. "We'll have videotape to support it."

Strier, who was booked on charges of attempted murder and ordered held on $500,000 bond, was carrying a second revolver in a rear pants pocket, police said Friday afternoon.

"It appears that there was some sort of a dispute over a probate case that the attorney was handling -- as to how he was handling the case -- and that appears to be what upset the suspect," LAPD Capt. Jim Miller said. "We don't know what the relationship was on the probate."

According to court documents, Curry represented the trustee for the William Strier Special Needs Trust.

It is unclear why Strier required such a trust, but the trustee, Evelyn Murphy, alleged in court papers that Strier was making repeated threats toward her, claiming that she was withholding money that belonged to him.

In Los Angeles County Superior Court documents, Murphy wrote that Strier had allegedly made several "threatening and disturbing telephone calls" recently and "appeared to be out of control and was shrieking obscenities and threatening bodily harm."

Among other threats, Strier allegedly told Murphy, "I am going kill you.... I am going to strap you down and hurt you."

As a result, Murphy sought to substitute Strier's sister, Ethel Celnik, as the trustee.

The money in the trust apparently came from a legal settlement Strier received after suffering injuries in an accident, sources said.

In court documents, Strier claimed that Murphy was denying him money he needed for unspecified surgeries.

Strier and Curry were heading to a court hearing on the matter when the shooting occurred.

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