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Slaying of Attorney's Wife Leads to Mistrial

Lawyer Daniel Horowitz had been defending a woman charged with killing her husband.

October 18, 2005|Lee Romney | Times Staff Writer

MARTINEZ, Calif. — A mistrial was declared Monday in the murder case against a woman defended by Bay Area attorney Daniel Horowitz, whose wife was bludgeoned to death over the weekend.

Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Laurel S. Brady cited excessive news coverage of Pamela Vitale's killing in dismissing jurors in the case against Susan Polk -- who says she stabbed her therapist husband, Felix, in self-defense after decades of abuse.

The case will be retried once the slaying of Vitale, 52, is resolved, said Ivan Golde, Horowitz's close friend and co-counsel in Susan Polk's defense.

"If this case had been allowed to go forward, there would have been so many conflicts an appellate court would have had to untangle it from beginning to end," said Golde, who noted that the same pathologists, investigators and crime scene specialists who investigated Felix Polk's death are now working on Vitale's, and that juror sympathy for Horowitz might have necessitated a change of venue.

"We have to find out what happened to Pamela Vitale," said Golde, describing the former high-tech marketing executive, who later worked for her husband's law practice, as "the most dear, thoughtful, intelligent woman."

Polk, Horowitz's client, allegedly stabbed her husband in the pool house of their home in Orinda -- an upscale suburban enclave east of the San Francisco Bay, not far from the remote hillside property in Lafayette where Vitale was bludgeoned Saturday.

The killing abruptly placed Horowitz -- a seasoned defense attorney who has courted the media spotlight -- on the receiving end of the crime equation. With the slaying, he was transformed into both a grieving husband and the subject of investigators' questioning.

The murder has sparked national media interest, since many commentators know Horowitz, a frequent freelance legal analyst on CNN, MSNBC and other networks.

Many networks also had been covering the Polk trial -- a sensational case of a woman who says she fought back in self-defense against a controlling husband decades her senior. Felix Polk began a sexual relationship with her when she was 15 and had been referred to him by a school counselor.

Prosecutors say Susan Polk killed for her husband's money.

CNN Headline News' Nancy Grace was close to Horowitz and Vitale. In a Monday interview with the network's Kyra Phillips, an emotional Grace reported that Horowitz was "a man broken in half. He was half whispering, half speaking. And I said, 'What has happened?' And he said, 'She is the love of my life.' "

Questions arose instantly about whether the Vitale killing might be linked to Horowitz's past clients -- or his defense of Polk. Could an attempted burglary at the Polk residence reported by one of her sons the same day be linked, court watchers wondered?

But the questions remained just that on Monday.

Golde said Horowitz, who owned a gun, did not believe the killing was linked to past defendants, who include drug suspects and a former Ukrainian prime minister who was convicted of fraud and money laundering. Neither Golde nor Horowitz saw links to Polk, who was visibly upset in court Monday, or her family.

Instead, Golde said, authorities were focusing on "specific suspects" not linked to Horowitz's work.

But authorities declined to confirm that. A morning autopsy revealed that Vitale died from blunt-force trauma to the head, Contra Costa County sheriff's spokesman Jimmy Lee told reporters. Investigators have interviewed "dozens of people," Lee said, but there were no suspects.

Among the people already questioned are Horowitz and neighbor James Lynch. Lee described both as "very cooperative."

Horowitz and Vitale lived in a mobile home for about a decade on a sprawling mountainside lot up a narrow, one-lane private road in Lafayette. They had been constructing a multistory dream house nearby. It is almost complete.

Lynch and others are tenants on the Horowitz/Vitale property, but court records reveal a tense relationship with Lynch.

Horowitz and Vitale bought his land in May 2004 and agreed to let him continue living there for 10 years. Another neighbor farther down the canyon, Ron Wolf, 60, said Lynch, an unemployed veteran, needed the money.

In June of this year, Horowitz and Vitale sought a restraining order against Lynch, alleging that methamphetamine and alcohol abuse and mental illness had made him violent and threatening. (Other neighbors had also sought a restraining order, the documents said.)

Court documents indicate Lynch was not served with the paperwork. Neither side appeared at a hearing, and the matter was dropped.

Lynch was threatening other tenants on the property, Horowitz alleged in a declaration, and had confronted construction workers building the couple's house and had purchased an attack dog that had lunged at Horowitz.

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