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Lawyer Doesn't Know Gunman

Attorney shot outside court in Van Nuys had just been assigned to the case, his friend says.

November 03, 2003|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

The man who shot an attorney outside the Van Nuys Courthouse last week in front of news crews had never met the victim and was not his client, according to a close friend of the wounded attorney.

On Sunday, Richard Heaton told the story of how the man he grew up with, Gerald E. Curry, was shot in the neck and both arms while a nearby group of news cameramen and reporters awaited an unrelated event.

The shooter, William Strier, 64, of Thousand Oaks, apparently was upset over being denied money from a legal settlement, and Curry was an opposing lawyer on the case, Los Angeles police officials said. Strier is being held in lieu of $1-million bail.

Heaton, who spent Friday night and Saturday by Curry's bedside, recounted Curry's description of the encounter: "Strier approaches him and says, 'Are you Mr. Curry?' Jerry looks up and says, 'Yes, I am.' At that point, Strier pulls a gun and shoots him at point-blank range in the neck."

"Jerry did not know him; he did not know Jerry," Heaton said.

The event was captured on camera after the first shots. Videotapes showed Curry hiding behind a tree for protection as Strier repeatedly tried to reach around and fire at the lawyer.

Heaton said that some media reports incorrectly suggested that Curry and Strier knew each other and that a falling-out between the men had prompted the shooting.

Curry, who was treated at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, left the hospital Sunday. He asked Heaton, his childhood buddy who is now a Newport Beach tax and estate planning attorney, to "set the record straight," Heaton said.

"We believe somebody described Curry to Strier," Heaton said. "He picked him out even though they had never met. How else could he have accosted him? There were lots of people in the courtyard."

Heaton and Curry both, 53, have been friends since they were 6. They were in the Boy Scouts together and both attended Polytechnic High School.

Heaton called Curry "an honest, dedicated family man, and a wonderful attorney who is loved by all those who know him."

Curry is the father of twin 8-year-old girls and an adult daughter, Heaton said. Curry lives with his wife and the twins in an equestrian neighborhood in Simi Valley.

Heaton said that in high school, Curry won best-scholar and best-athlete awards, as well as awards for outstanding attendance. Curry's father died about three months ago at 92.

Curry has several bullet wounds in his arms, Heaton said. Also, he said one bullet is still lodged in Curry's neck and doctors have not yet decided whether to remove it.

"It's a remarkable story," said Heaton, who added that his friend told him: "I want to get on with my life. I want to get back to work, and I want to get this all behind me."

Curry was representing a court-appointed trustee for a "special needs" trust that had been established for Strier, because Strier was the recipient of a $100,000 personal-injury settlement, Heaton said. The trust allowed Strier to continue to receive Medi-Cal payments, while also being allocated money for other medical and personal costs from the settlement, Heaton said.

The court-appointed trustee to the trust was Evelyn Murphy. "She became the trustee, and then Strier wanted to get at the money for purposes Evelyn Murphy would not agree to," Heaton said.

Heaton said when Murphy refused to give in to Strier's demands, he allegedly became abusive. "If she had given in to his desires and let him spend the money however he wanted to, she would have been liable for it," Heaton said.

In a phone interview Sunday, Murphy, a self-employed conservator in Woodland Hills, said she did not agree to all of Strier's demands and that he called her Aug. 29 "shrieking at the top of his lungs ... telling me 'I'm going to kill you! Give me my money!' "

Los Angeles County Superior Court records showed that Murphy alleged that Strier repeatedly threatened her, claiming that she was withholding money that belonged to him. Murphy wrote that Strier had allegedly told her "I am going to kill you ... I am going to strap you down and hurt you."

Curry entered the picture, Heaton said, when Murphy asked to be taken off the case. Murphy hired Curry to provide a report of her accounting from the trust and to petition the court to accept her resignation.

The court granted the request Friday, the day of the shooting.

Murphy said Strier's sister, Ethel Celnik, was in the courtroom at the time, but Strier was not.

"The judge asked where he was and his sister said he's too sick to come to court," Murphy said.

Curry left the courtroom just after 10 a.m. and went outside. "At that time," Heaton said, "Strier approached him."

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