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Parole bid stirs O.C. political dust-up

GOP members are at odds over request for freedom by a man convicted in 1979 thrill killing in Westminster.

September 25, 2008|H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writer

A parole hearing today for an Orange County man convicted in a thrill killing nearly 30 years ago has led to a spat between members of the California Republican Party over whether advocating his release is tantamount to being soft on crime.

Paul A. Guardado, 46, will have a second parole hearing in two months to determine if he should be freed after serving 19 years of a 17-years-to-life sentence for aiding and abetting the 1979 killing of Steven A. Buus, 24, who was gunned down while walking at night through a Westminster park.

Guardado, who was 17 at the time, helped beat the victim before an accomplice shot him to death. Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas called the murder heinous and a "cruel thrill kill."

Despite Rackauckas' claim that Guardado has not expressed remorse, a federal judge found otherwise. Prison counselors also wrote that while in prison Guardado has "evolved into a rational, responsible and insightful person" who poses minimal threat to the community.

It is those two disparate views that have caused the dust-up between Rackauckas' office and Santa Cruz lawyer and Republican National Committee member Timothy J. Morgan, who is pushing for Guardado's release.

While in prison, Guardado has earned his high school equivalency degree, an associate in arts degree and a paralegal certificate, which U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken said will help him get a job if released. Guardado also has received the support of an Austrian cardinal and former GOP Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, as well as others, in his bid for parole.

In 2005, McPherson wrote a letter on his office's letterhead and Morgan used Republican National Committee letterhead to contact Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Guardado's behalf, calling him rehabilitated and a model prisoner. The letters are still part of Guardado's file.

Morgan's letter stirred the wrath of Susan Kang Schroeder, a spokeswoman for Rackauckas and the wife of Michael Schroeder, former chairman of the California Republican Party. Both are well-connected with the local GOP.

Last week, she sent an e-mail to Morgan asking him to contact "the Board of Prison terms" and "withdraw your plea advocating for Guardado's parole and to pledge not to use your former California Republican Party and Republican National Committee titles to call for the release" of other convicted killers.

On Wednesday, Schroeder said she will submit a resolution at this weekend's state Republican Party convention in Anaheim to force Morgan to apologize for what she calls his misuse of Republican National Committee letterhead and apologize publicly to Buus' family and other Republicans for supporting Guardado's parole request.

Schroeder's e-mail said Morgan violated the Republican philosophy of being tough on crime and "creates doubt in the mind of the public that Republicans really stand for punishment of unremorseful murderers."

Morgan fired back Wednesday, calling Schroeder's criticism a thinly veiled political attack stemming from resentment over a fallout with her husband when he was state party chairman. Morgan was the rules committee chairman when Michael Schroeder was the party head.

"It's an attempt to besmirch my reputation in the California Republican Party," Morgan said of the resolution. "This is nothing more than an attempt at political vendetta and payback."

He said the Schroeders are still upset over disagreements he had with Michael Schroeder over how to spend party money in the state. "This resulted in smoldering resentment," he said. "Mike and I have not been allied in some time."

Michael Schroeder dismissed Morgan's comments as sexist and said he has nothing to do with the dispute between Morgan and his wife. "I'm fairly certain that the idea that a professional woman only does what her husband wants went out in the 1960s," he said.

Morgan said he has never met Guardado and asked Schwarzenegger to parole him after talking to retired state appellate court Judge Chris Cottle and former Santa Cruz County counsel Dwight Herr, who are both supporting Guardado.

"These are two men I respect and have known for a long time. They feel he is an exemplary prisoner," Morgan said. "I don't have a dog in this fight, and I understand the district attorney's need to put the public safety of Orange County citizens first."

On Wednesday, he sent a letter to Rackauckas saying he will not be "advocating on Mr. Guardado's behalf at any future meeting" of the parole board. He said he was acting in a private capacity when he sent his 2005 letter on Republican National Committee letterhead and it was the only time he acted on Guardado's behalf.

Morgan also took a shot at the Schroeders, who have worked as campaign consultants to Republican candidates in Orange County, including Rackauckas and former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona.

"It's clear that what's happening here has little to do with Paul Guardado's parole and everything to do with political payback by the Schroeders, who have long been my detractors in state Republican circles," he wrote.

Morgan did not respond to Susan Schroeder's demand that he withdraw his letter of support for Guardado.

Kent G. Washburn, Guardado's attorney, said today's hearing will be his client's scheduled hearing for 2008. Last month's hearing had been ordered by Judge Wilken, who found that Guardado had not received a fair hearing in 2006.

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hgreza@latimes.com

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