Kill A Gay Man And Go Free

Homosexuality and justice in Orange County

Finkel's decomposing body lay twisted over the spare tire next to a blood-soaked yellow blanket. He was barefoot and shirtless. A pair of black slacks covered his legs, all four pants pockets pulled out. On a shelf nearby, they found an industrial-size rubber hammer, covered in blood, hair and bone fragments, but without any fingerprints whatsoever.

Coroner Richard Fukumoto found that the killer had repeatedly slugged Finkel with the hammer. One of the three blows considered fatal crushed through the cranium and penetrated the brain. By the time the attacker finished, according to Fukumoto, Finkel's face was battered, his ribs were broken, and his skull resembled a cracked eggshell.

Irvine Police Detective Larry Montgomery said Finkel had been sitting on his living room couch reading the Sunday funnies when the killed approached from behind and began swinging. The attack's ferocity splattered blood as far away as the dining room wall, some 15 feet away. Even after Finkel lay motionless and bleeding profusely, authorities believe, the beating continued. In Fukumoto's opinion, a lack of defensive wounds indicated Finkel never knew what hit him. Police later learned the killer stayed for two hours after the attack, drinking beer, showering and searching the house before stealing Finkel's Honda Prelude.

Finger, foot and palm prints left at the scene could not be matched in law enforcement files. Police arrested and promptly released a Garden Grove short-order cook whose nude photograph was discovered in Finkel's dresser. The mystery deepened a month later, when a hunter found the stolen car wrecked and abandoned off a hunting trail near Boulder, Montana. Prints in the car matched those at Finkel's.

Though he considered Finkel's sex life distasteful, Montgomery, the 19-year police veteran who headed the investigation, believed a murderer was loose. His stubborn pursuit took him and his partner, Pete Linton, as far away as Oklahoma three years after the crime. When they exhausted all leads, the case became inactive. It would remain unsolved for a decade.

The clue that solved the puzzle came in 1993, after Montana law enforcement agencies joined a nationwide trend among states and placed their fingerprint records online. At the Irvine P.D., Sergeant Scott Cade, who remembered the Finkel murder and that the killer's get-away car had been ditched in Montana, investigated the new database. The automated fingerprint system compared the killer's prints and generated a list of possible matches. To declare a match, Cade said, police look for "basically 10" points of similarity between prints. Cade reviewed each of the files, found a match and, two days after getting his hunch, shared with Montgomery and Linton the identity of the killer: Scott Andrew Stockwell. Had he not been fingerprinted for drunk driving in Montana in 1986, Stockwell might never have been linked to the killing.

A preliminary investigation determined Stockwell spent his first five years on the run living in Montana, where he worked as a nurse's aide at an adult disability center. During this time, he struggled with addictions to drugs and alcohol. Sources there said Stockwell had not been seen since 1988, when he married a co-worker and left the state. His whereabouts remained a mystery for weeks until a policeman in Marinette, Wisconsin, a rural community one hour north of Green Bay, saw a nationwide "wanted" bulletin and recognized the suspect from a sexual assault case involving Stockwell's wife, Megan. Using his wife's case as an excuse, detectives persuaded Stockwell, who was working at a foundry making pistons and living in a dilapidated trailer, to come by the police station.

When he arrived to talk with local police, Stockwell was shocked to find the two Irvine homicide detectives who had been searching for him for 10 years. During the interrogation, Stockwell initially claimed Finkel was alive and well when he last saw him. But when confronted with evidence to the contrary, he admitted killing Finkel, waived extradition and, on May 19, 1993, was flown back to Orange County to face justice. Megan Stockwell thought her husband had done nothing wrong and told a Los Angeles Timesreporter shortly after his arrest, "He comes across rough and tough. But he's just a big teddy bear once you get to know him.

Based on a fellow inmate's recommendation, Stockwell retained Alexander for $500, all the money he could raise. Alexander offered a plea bargain of voluntary manslaughter in exchange for a lesser sentence, but the proposal was rejected. The DA's office had confidence in the typical severity with which Orange County juries treat criminals. But this was not a typical case, even for murder.

With his client facing a possible life sentence, Alexander turned to cases in which the defense argued a reduction of charges when the perpetrator was straight and the victim gay. He did not have to look far. In 1988, a Texas man who stalked and killed two gay men was sentenced to 30 years instead of life by Dallas Judge Jack Hampton, who said he didn't "…much care for queers…"  That same year, Judge Daniel Futch seemed puzzled that a Florida prosecutor brought charges against two men who called a man "faggot" and then beat him to death. According to American Bar Association transcripts, Judge Futch asked, "That's a crime now, to beat up a homosexual?" The prosecutor replied, "Yes, sir. And it's a crime to kill them."

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