Kill A Gay Man And Go Free

Homosexuality and justice in Orange County

In a Newport Beach courtroom of the California Superior Court, defense attorney Jon Alexander, dressed in a designer suit and black leather cowboy boots, paced between the lectern and the defense table as he argued that the victim in this murder trial was his client, not the dead gay man.

Despite a maverick appearance dominated by a full head of wavy brown hair and a beard, Alexander sensed he "connected" with the Orange County jury when he said Scott Andrew Stockwell killed in the "heat of passion" after being provoked by Boyd W. Finkel, a "maniacal" homosexual, who died trying "to break a straight guy into gay."

To the five-man, seven-woman jury summoned to determine if Stockwell's fatal attack on Finkel, a successful businessman, constituted murder or the lesser finding of manslaughter, Alexander offered this summation: "This is a case about perversion…and how normal people react…"

At the table next to Alexander sat Debora Lynn Lloyd, a 10-year deputy district attorney whose sweet demeanor belied the doggedness that had never lost her a murder case. Stockwell was no different from hundreds of criminals whom she had seen scramble to avoid responsibility. Although the defense offered no less than five excuses, the prosecutor believed Stockwell had committed cold-blooded murder and was bent on exploiting the victim's homosexuality before the jury.

She was convinced Stockwell had had consensual sex with Finkel, only to later "have second thoughts," lose his temper and bludgeon his host to death. Even if the unarmed and less-than-imposing Finkel had made an unwanted sexual pass, Lloyd said, a reasonable person would have fled, not stayed and killed. Her response to Stockwell's story was sharp. "Wouldn't it be amazing if a person got off of murder with that defense?" Lloyd asked the jury. "We cannot excuse people who have bad tempers from murder… [Stockwell] made sure Boyd Finkel was never going to talk about what really happened."

The fates of the two men collided on a weekend in October 1983, when Stockwell, a 21-year-old transient, took his position on the southbound shoulder of the San Diego Freeway somewhere near Santa Monica Boulevard. Through heavy prescription glasses too large for his face, he looked expectantly into the wary eyes of passing motorists. The $100 in his wallet could have purchased a bus ticket to San Diego, but "Scruff," as his friends called him, preferred the risks of hitchhiking.

For the next couple of hours, Stockwell stood waiting on the side of the highway, chain-smoking cigarettes. Having depended on the kindness of strangers since receiving a less-than-honorable discharge from the Navy eight months before, the Wisconsin native knew someone would eventually pull over. That someone would be ignorant, however, of the passenger's criminal history and his abuse of alcohol and drugs, including heroin. The driver would not know the tattoo-covered hitchhiker had been diagnosed in 1979 as a psychopath.

Boyd Finkel had his ups and downs, but he was more satisfied with his life than most 39-year-olds. Entrepreneur-ially gifted, Finkel owned a Newport Beach advertising firm and three wholesale tire and automotive accessory stores. Employees said he was a pleasant, conservatively dressed boss who allowed them to use his home when he traveled. Finkel, described by a friend as a "Wally Cox kind of guy," settled in Irvine after splitting his time between homes in Washington, D.C., and Southern California. He tended to shift conversations to automobiles and owned a Ferrari, a Porsche and several Mercedes, including a 300 SL Gull Wing. He enjoyed mellow evenings sipping drinks at the Little Shrimp, the gay restaurant and bar in Newport Beach.

But the acumen he displayed in business did not extend to his personal life. Finkel liked casual sex with tough, blue-collar men and was arrested twice by undercover vice cops stationed in quarter movie booths. To avoid trouble, Finkel occasionally roamed the highways of Los Angeles and Orange counties looking for hitchhikers willing to indulge his desires in exchange for a ride, a decent meal or a place to spend the night. Though numerous men rejected his offer, he was more successful than you might expect. Finkel thought he had found a way to have consensual sex safely, albeit unconventionally. He was wrong.

When Finkel failed to show at the office, employee Anthony Settember drove to his boss's house at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac and found the mail unretrieved and newspapers scattered outside. No one answered the front door. For a week, friends speculated on whether he had taken an unexpected trip or fallen ill. Finkel's parents in Florida hadn't heard from their son either. Nine days after he had last been seen—eating dinner on Oct. 15 with friends at Newport Beach's Chanteclair restaurant—the police were notified.

On Monday, Oct. 24, 1983, three patrolmen entered the single-story house after cutting the garage's padlock. They found a Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times open in the kitchen. The comics section rested on the floor next to the living room couch. A large brown bloodstain soiled the beige carpet nearby. Closer inspection uncovered additional stains and spatters. Most significantly, bloody drag marks led police to the trunk of a 1971 Cadillac convertible parked in the garage. Any hope the officers had that this was a routine missing persons case faded when they popped the trunk.

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