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Man held in stabbing deaths of Ventura County couple

Joshua Packer, 20, is arrested in the slayings of the couple and their unborn child in May at their Faria Beach home. DNA evidence found at the crime scene led investigators to Packer.

April 13, 2010|By Steve Chawkins
  • Relatives John and Tami Husted attend a news conference Monday, where officials announced the arrest of a suspect in the death of John's brother and his wife.
Relatives John and Tami Husted attend a news conference Monday, where officials… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

Before last May, neighbors in the upscale Ventura County community of Faria Beach didn't have much reason to think they were unsafe.

On one side, they were guarded by electronic gates. On the other side, the ocean lapped at their sea walls. At low tide, strollers greeted one another on the magnificent shoreline six miles up the coast from Ventura.

But on the night of May 20, an intruder walked through an open terrace door and stabbed a man and his pregnant wife to death. Their two children, ages 9 and 11, were in the house when the attacker entered.

Officials on Monday revealed that a nearly yearlong investigation had culminated in the arrest of a 20-year-old suspect found through a DNA database. Sheriff's investigators said they had no reason to believe the alleged killer knew his victims, Brock and Davina Husted, both 42, although they were still looking into whether he had targeted their home for a robbery.

Joshua Graham Packer of Ventura was booked Sunday night on suspicion of three counts of murder in the deaths of the Husteds and their unborn child, and two counts of robbery.

The slayings occurred after the Husteds' 9-year-old son, watching TV, saw a man in a black motorcycle helmet come through an open door from the family's seaside terrace into their living room. The boy told investigators he saw the man confront his mother, who was six months' pregnant, in the kitchen. His parents died in another room as he and his 11-year-old sister fled to a neighbor's home.

At an emotional news conference Monday, Sheriff Bob Brooks called the incident "one of the most tragic multiple homicides in the history of Ventura County."

The crimes unnerved neighbors in ordinarily tranquil enclaves up and down the coast. Two weeks later, a 61-year-old Ventura woman named Wendy DiRodio was fatally stabbed in Ventura Keys, another upscale waterfront neighborhood, in a home she shared with her parents. Officials on Monday said there was no connection between the Husteds' deaths and that of DiRodio, which is still unsolved.

They had little to say about Packer, pointing out they are still sifting through "telephonic records" to determine whether he had contacted the Husteds before the fatal night of May 20. Packer, who is being held in lieu of $2.2-million bail, is to be arraigned Tuesday. Officials declined to say what was allegedly taken from the Husteds' home.

Brock Husted owned a wrought-iron business in Santa Barbara. Davina was active in the National Charity League, a women's philanthropic organization. Preparing for the arrival of their third child, they had put their home on the market and planned to purchase a larger one.

The big break in the case came about two weeks ago, Brooks said. That was when DNA discovered at the crime scene was found to match that of Packer, who had been arrested in Santa Barbara earlier this year and charged with armed robbery and making criminal threats. A DNA sample was taken from him at the time.

In the Santa Barbara incident, Packer allegedly pulled a gun on a gas-station clerk, stole some cash and a cellphone, and later threatened to kill the clerk and his family, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff's officials. That case is still pending. After the DNA match, Ventura County authorities arrested Packer in another, unspecified crime, then released him and put him under surveillance. Gary Pentis, a chief deputy with the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, said it was "a tactic we employed to gather more information."

Sheriff's officials would not say in what form they found Packer's DNA in the Husted home. Pentis said they also have recovered objects they believe Packer carried that night, but he declined to elaborate. Authorities said they do not expect additional arrests.

In 2004, California voters approved Proposition 69, which required DNA samples from convicted felons to be entered into an FBI tracking system. In 2009, the law was expanded to include DNA samples from all those arrested on felony charges -- a measure opposed by privacy advocates, who said it went too far.

At Monday's news conference, Brock Husted's brother Scott Husted praised the law and, along with other family members, expressed gratitude to the Sheriff's Department.

"This is a very huge milestone," he said, choking up as he described the family's overwhelming sense of loss.

"We never believed there was a reason that would make sense -- and this doesn't make sense," he said. "A sick individual came to rob them. Something went wrong, and he killed them."

steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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