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Teen Held in Slaying of Wife of Attorney

A 16-year-old who lived nearby is arrested in the killing of Pamela Vitale, the spouse of lawyer and television legal expert Daniel Horowitz.

October 21, 2005|Tim Reiterman | Times Staff Writer

MARTINEZ, Calif. — A 16-year-old youth has been arrested in connection with the fatal bludgeoning of Pamela Vitale, the wife of defense attorney and television analyst Daniel Horowitz, in the entryway of the couple's hilltop home, the sheriff's office said Thursday.

"We are still trying to determine the exact motive," Contra Costa County sheriff's spokesman Jimmy Lee said at a news conference here. "Although we have a suspect in custody, the investigation is still going on."

Lee said the arrest was made at 10 p.m. Wednesday after investigators served two search warrants, but he declined to identify the youth or say what led to his arrest.

The announcement came just hours before a funeral service for Vitale, who was killed Saturday. Horowitz discovered his 52-year-old wife's body in a mobile home where they were living while building their dream villa overlooking the oak-studded hills of suburban Lafayette.

Quoting unnamed sources, the San Francisco Chronicle identified the suspect on its website and said authorities believe the youth had an argument with Vitale after going to the property looking for marijuana-growing paraphernalia he had ordered by using stolen credit card information.

The youth lives with his mother several hundred yards away in a house with goats and chickens penned in the yard. Built with straw and using solar energy, the house has been featured on East Bay tours of "green" homes.

On Thursday afternoon, clothing and other belongings were piled on the front porch beneath a clothesline.

No one answered the door. Reached later at the house by phone, a man who identified himself as the owner's brother, David Curiel, said police had searched the home Wednesday night for a couple of hours but that the suspect apparently was at a relative's house.

Curiel said his brother and his family already were traumatized by the death of Vitale when the youth's home was raided. Asked about the suspect, he said, "I've met him. But he kept to himself."

Kurt Krikorian, a 19-year-old neighbor, said the suspect attended Acalanes High School, passed his high school equivalency test, then took some classes at a local junior college to keep himself occupied.

High school officials declined to comment.

Krikorian described the suspect as very personable, the sort of young man who would make easy conversation on the rural road and would offer to pay for gas when they rode to summer school together. "He was a very nice guy," Krikorian said.

The suspect's appearance, he recalled, used to stand out: "He was into Goth -- all black nails, black hair and sometimes black eyeliner."

More recently, neighbors said, he had a clean-cut appearance.

People in the close-knit community said they were relieved that an arrest had been made but disturbed that the suspect was one of them.

"Everybody knows everybody," said Daniel Jegers, the owner of nearby Wildwood Acres Resort.

Horowitz, a criminal defense lawyer, specializes in white-collar, drug and death-penalty cases. Vitale worked part-time in his law office.

At the time of his wife's death, Horowitz was defending Susan Polk, who was accused of stabbing to death her therapist husband in their Orinda pool house. A mistrial was declared later in the high-profile case.

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