A federal appeals court on Friday overturned the death sentence of a Los Angeles man who avenged the loss of his therapist by murdering her husband.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld William Clark's conviction, which included murder, two counts of attempted murder, rape and arson. But the court said the judge had misled the jury about death penalty law. The court also said the California Supreme Court should have overturned the penalty during its review.
Ava Gawronski was counseling Clark, a 37-year-old Canoga Park underwriter, and his wife, but stopped treating him after he threatened to rape her in her office.
In January 1982, Clark set Gawronski's West Los Angeles house ablaze. His intent, Clark said during his trial, was to chase the family out so he could shoot and kill David Gawronski, a 35-year-old federal job trainer, in front of his wife and infant daughter.
Instead, David Gawronski perished in the fire.
Ava Gawronski, 32, was hospitalized for 10 months and lost her nose and fingers. A neighbor rescued the baby, who was unharmed.
Deputy Atty. Gen. Scott Taryle, who represented the prosecution, called it an "unfortunate decision."
Taryle said Clark initially considered mailing Ava Gawronski severed heads, but decided that wasn't enough.
"The crime itself was a horrible act by a coldblooded murderer," he said.
Attorneys with the federal public defender's office in Los Angeles, who brought the appeal, could not be reached for comment.