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Stan Duke, 70; sportscaster's crime of passion cut short career

March 17, 2007|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Stan Duke, a former Los Angeles sportscaster and one of the first blacks in local television news, whose career ended after he shot his estranged wife's lover to death in 1971, has died. He was 70.

Duke died Wednesday at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital after suffering a heart attack at his home in Santa Barbara, Ellen Duke, his second wife of 25 years, said Friday.

Duke was a five-year veteran weekend sportscaster for KNXT-TV on Feb. 7, 1971, when he finished the late-evening newscast and went to the Wilshire district home of his estranged wife, Faye Williams Duke, a junior high school teacher and president of the Black Educators Assn.

He later testified that he saw her and radio commentator Averill Berman in the bedroom together, left to get a rifle, and after returning fired the fatal shots through the closed door of a bedroom closet in which Berman was hiding.

"It took me 17 years to get where I am," he reportedly said, "and I blew it all tonight."

Duke pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. But a Superior Court judge, who heard the case without a jury, ruled that Duke was legally sane when he shot Berman, and convicted him of second-degree murder.

Duke was sentenced to five years to life in prison.

Outside the courtroom after he was sentenced, Duke declared that he had been convicted because of his race.

Duke and his former wife were black; Berman, who had been identified with leftist causes, was white.

In a letter to a deputy probation officer, Duke called his conviction a "travesty of justice" and a "northern lynching."

"When you're in another guy's bed with his wife, it's dangerous territory," he said. Duke, according to The Times' account, said he considered it a racial matter because he did not believe Berman would have been prosecuted if their roles had been reversed.

Longtime Los Angeles sportscaster Stu Nahan remembered Duke on Friday as "a good broadcaster who was very energetic" and "expressed his opinion."

"He was a very nice guy," Nahan said. "I don't know what I would do if I found my wife in a compromising position.... I was just very surprised" upon learning of the killing.

Duke spent three years in prison at Tehachapi. When he was paroled in 1974, he told The Times in 1979, he found "a lot of career doors closed."

"I can't say anything because I dug my own grave," he said. "But I'd prefer it if they had just been honest. News directors told me things like, 'Well, Stan, the market has changed and you can't cut the mustard.' "

The son of a Union Pacific porter, Duke was born Clarence Stanton Duke on May 9, 1936, in Portland, Ore.

After attending Coalinga College (now West Hills College Coalinga) in Fresno County, where he played football, he attended the University of Oregon, where he ran track. He also played basketball and ran track at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in speech arts. He later earned a master's degree in theater arts at UCLA.

After launching his career in radio engineering and broadcasting at a small radio station in Coalinga, he then worked at radio and TV stations in Portland before moving to Los Angeles.

In 1968, after working as a cameraman at KNBC-TV in Los Angeles, he was hired as a sportscaster at KNXT in 1968.

While covering the Mexico City Olympics that year, Duke interviewed sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos after they raised their fists in black power salutes on the medal podium.

Although Duke had a brief stint working as an engineer at campus radio station KUSC in 1974, he was unable to return to mainstream news after his conviction.

In 1974, he became the sports information officer at UC Santa Barbara. But he was no longer working there when he met his future wife, Ellen, in 1980.

For a time in the early '80s, she said, he worked in construction and for an oil company.

But after they married in 1981, she said, he stayed home to raise his sons Brent and Brandon while she pursued her career in the medical device industry.

"He had been frustrated in trying to get back into his industry," she said. "He couldn't do what he loved, so he did this. He really spent a lot of time volunteering for the Boys Clubs and youth sports, coaching and that type of thing. He was frustrated, but certainly I think it was a wonderful experience for his boys to have a dad around so much."

In addition to his wife and two sons, Duke is survived by his sisters, Carlene Jackson and Evelyn Cook; another son, David; his daughters, Beverly Duke, Tamala Newsome and Paige Williams-Wake; and several grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. today at El Montecito Presbyterian Church, 1455 E. Valley Road, Santa Barbara.

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