Kill A Gay Man And Go Free

Homosexuality and justice in Orange County

 Of the new details that emerged in Stockwell's testimony, most absurd to Lloyd was the self-defense claim. The middle-aged Finkel suffered from a chronic bad back, weighed in at 5 feet 6 inches and 130 pounds and, unlike his 21-year-old killer, had no violent history. Stockwell, fresh out of military training, towered over Finkel by 4 inches and 40 or 50 pounds. "Have you ever noticed Finkel gets more aggressive and he [Stockwell] gets more passive with each subsequent version?" Lloyd asked the jury, which heard Stockwell offer police conflicting stories during taped interrogations.

Detective Montgomery said experience has taught him to spot a liar. :They tell you a story, but little things just don't add up," he said. Besides being a "last-minute addition," Montgomery said, there was no evidence of the mysterious second man. Stockwell initially said he was calm during the killing but told jurors he was in a "blind rage." Blood splatter contradicted Stockwell's account of where the killing occurred and the absence of orange juice containers discredited hi testimony about drinking. The lack of defensive wounds and the damage to Finkel's skull, particularly the fatal blow from behind, indicated there was no two-sided physical altercation. Moreover, prosecutors doubted Finkel would have tried to assault the bigger Stockwell without using his pistol, which was found, covered in dust, under the master bed.

Evidence indicated there was more to his relationship with Finkel than Stockwell would admit. He told police he saw an older, well-kept foreign car in the garage with the Cadillac, but Finkel's classic Mercedes had been taken to Los Angeles for repairs three days before Stockwell claimed to have been picked up. The Mercedes stayed in the shop until two weeks after the killing. Lloyd told the jury Stockwell could have known about the car unless he has been in the garage days earlier. She was also troubled by Stockwell's supposed need to wash his clothes when he arrived at Finkel's. "If the defendant left [Oxnard, where he was living] on the day Finkel picked him up, why did he need to wash his clothes? I'll tell you why. Because he had been [with Finkel] a few days," argued Lloyd. "They slept together. There was no third person."

In her final argument, the prosecutor urged jurors to resist blaming the victim. "Just because Finkel was gay doesn't make Stockwell's story true. This was not self-defense…He actually murdered a man because of his temper," said Lloyd, who prosecutes homicide cases in Orange County's beach communities. Alexander admitted there were "minor inconsistencies" in his client's story. "Just because he's a liar doesn't make him a murdered," he said in closing. "[Stockwell] felt he was violated. You'd do the same thing in that situation. Think about it."

For Stockwell, the jury's decision meant the difference between life in prison or imminent release. The jury voted initially 7-5 for a finding in the range of second degree murder, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life, but a vocal cadre of four or five refused to budge, sharing "enraging" experiences involving gay men and lesbians. One juror was adamant about ignoring evidence of Stockwell's psychopathic tendencies. Someone else sympathized with Stockwell's wife. Negligible compassion surfaced for Finkel. Nevertheless, the discussions were heated. At times, those outside the deliberating room heard several female jurors shouting at a Latino juror, one of two who held out for murder. After two days, the holdouts ceded on Nov. 8, 1995, and the jury returned a verdict of involuntary manslaughter, the lowest possible finding other than "not guilty." When the decision was read, Stockwell and Alexander hugged. Stockwell, who remained eerily dispassionate throughout most of the trial, smiled at jurors and said, "Thank you." Lloyd, shaken, sat stone-faced.

Jurors gathered outside the courthouse, where foreperson Arliss Ahrling, a retired teacher, announced, "We wanted everyone to feel good about what we've done." A few said the prosecution had failed to establish Stockwell's intention to murder Finkel, but others bought the defense story and put responsibility for Finkel's murder on Finkel himself. One juror, a housewife clutching a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soulto her chest, said the majority decided it was okay to defend oneself against homosexual advances by "whatever means necessary." Stockwell "suffered enough," said another juror, who later wrote to Judge James K. Turner asking for leniency. "I learned more about homosexuality than I cared to," she said. "Finkel was a pervert." When asked about the brutality of the killing and Stockwell's inconsistencies, she responded, "So what?" Bill Scannell, a car-enthusiast friend of Finkel's, left the courthouse shaking his head. "I guess there are some people who think it's okay to kill a gay person," he said.

A jubilant Alexander said, "A lot of times jurors have trouble sleeping the night after a verdict. But don't worry about what you did. Justice was served today." Minutes later, he offered to buy one juror's lunch. "That's the least I can do for you," he said. In the lobby of the DA's office, a subdued Lloyd found it hard to express her disappointment. "They clearly had no sympathy for Finkel." After a moment's reflection, she added, "Stockwell got away with murder."

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