"Fags Die"

The case against Gregory Michael Pisarcik

We joke, in Orange County, about beige and white, about beige carpets in beige homes behind beige walls in beige housing tracts, and white walls in the beige homes. We joke because beige and white aren't really colors, and color suggests excitement, and Orange County, particularly South County, is, well, anything but exciting. We joke until we see something like a crime-scene photograph of a Tustin apartment, from the summer of 2002. The apartment had been ransacked, its once-white walls now grotesquely spattered burgundy, and on carpet that had been beige but is now turning almost black, there's a bedspread. The bedspread, we'll learn, covered the mutilated corpse of a nude man. He was hog-tied from behind with white athletic socks. Though he suffered a myriad of injuries, the most serious wounds were deep gashes in the top and back of the head, wounds that, by the time the photograph was taken, had attracted an army of ants. The lethal weapon, an unopened bottle of Moet & Chandon, lay nearby, covered in blood.

"Leggs was truly a nice guy," recalled one of his acquaintances. "He loved to laugh."

Gregory Michael Pisarcik loved alcohol, but not as much as he loved heroin, cocaine, PCP, marijuana and especially methamphetamine. Growing up in New Jersey, he was a popular high school student with many girlfriends, but he got addicted to drugs. He moved to California to "clean up" his life, according to his sister Kimberly. The drugs would prove too enticing, however.

By 2002, when Pisarcik was 25 years old, he'd been convicted of grand theft, embezzlement and narcotics violations. The military had rejected him. He was an unemployed laborer, drifting between Orange and Ventura counties to party with friends. In Huntington Beach, Pisarcik once ate at a Denny's restaurant, left without paying and then threatened to kill the waiter who confronted him. He earned money as a prostitute, servicing older men he met in gay bars.

Late on June 26, 2002, Pisarcik entered the Main Street bar and found Leggs, who probably thought he'd hit the jackpot. Leggs had no clue that the tall, muscular man flirting with him was a convicted felon looking for a place to stay and cash for his next meth fix. The two men walked out together, stopped at a Laguna Circle K for a toothbrush at midnight and then drove 30 minutes to Leggs' Tustin home. Three days later, after a friend reported Leggs missing, Orange County sheriff's deputies entered Leggs' garage apartment on Irvine Boulevard. They found one of the most gruesome hate crimes in California history.

Pisarcik's inability to find the cash may have enraged him, detectives believe. After he tortured and killed Leggs, he didn't call police and report a self-defense killing or even run from the bloody mess. Forensic evidence indicates Pisarcik wildly searched the house, paused to eat in the kitchen (where blood was found on the refrigerator) and showered. Before he left, he sat on a bed above the corpse and cleaned two handguns he would steal. At about noon on June 27, an animal control officer noticed Pisarcik, looking nervous, leave Leggs' apartment and drive off in the victim's white Lincoln Town Car. He later scored drugs and visited a series of friends, telling one about the incident and saying he'd "fucked up."

Three days later in Ventura County, deputies spotted Pisarcik even though he'd changed the license plates on Leggs' car. After a three-hour chase up to speeds of 100 mph -- during which Pisarcik fired a gun and drove on the wrong side of a highway -- officers trapped him. Armed with Leggs' .357 revolver, he refused to leave the car. Instead, he smoked meth from a pipe while deputies fired shotguns at the Town Car's tires. He later said he contemplated suicide, maybe provoking police to shoot him so he wouldn't have to shoot himself. Then he surrendered.

In custody, Pisarcik told detectives he hated homosexuals and admitted he'd gone to Leggs' home to rob him. While he was being transported to the Orange County Jail, he told a deputy: "Don't put me in with the homos. I'm not a homo. That's why I killed him. I'm not a homo." During fingerprinting, Pisarcik told another deputy that he had no regrets about killing Leggs and had been planning a killing spree in Ventura County when deputies trapped him. During a jail interview, he told a fourth officer who had asked him to calm down, "I am not going to calm down because I killed someone and kicked his balls in, stuffed a flashlight up his ass and beat him with a bottle. . . . I hate gays."

With the confessions excluded, Pisarcik has dramatically revised his story to win juror sympathy. And not just his story but his appearance. On the first day of trial, he was dressed like a Nordstrom salesclerk. The long hair is gone, and so are the goatee and clothes that suggest the life of a drifter, but there's still something not right with Pisarcik's eyes, something cold and staring, almost lifeless. He's clean-shaven now. His haircut is conservative, and he wears khakis and button-down shirts. Throughout most of the trial, he has stared down at the defense table, but when Murphy showed the jury crime-scene photos, Pisarcik quickly -- and without emotion -- looked up at them.

Kelley loaded the jury with women in the belief that they'll instinctively favor the young man over his older gay victim. In legal briefs, Pisarcik now claims he didn't go home with Leggs to rob or kill him but for "consensual sodomy." The homicide was the "unintentional" result of a moment of "passion" spurred by "something" Leggs allegedly said after their sexual encounter.

To bolster his assertion, Pisarcik is letting Kelley argue that he's "borderline retarded" from childhood traumas such as accidentally hitting his head on a toilet when he was a tot and living with a "tyrant" father who called him a "faggot." He has also told a psychologist that at age 9 an 11-year-old pal forced him to engage in mutual sex and that at 10 he crashed his bicycle into a tree, perhaps debilitating him mentally. According to Kelley, these experiences helped make Pisarcik a drug addict "who couldn"t figure out how to live." 

Closing arguments are expected this week, but prosecutor Murphy hasn't hidden his contempt for the defense strategy. If jurors feel pity and convict Pisarcik of a lesser offense such as manslaughter (in effect, saying the killing was wrong but with extenuating circumstances), he could be freed from state prison in a decade -- or less. Kelley thinks such a punishment is about right. He says the case isn't about first-degree murder. "It's about demons and drugs and desperation," he told jurors. His evidence, he says, is in the crime-scene photos, the beige carpet and white walls gone almost black with blood, the face and body straining against white athletic socks, the unopened Moet & Chandon that was used to hammer at the victim's skull, the missing ears, the plunged flashlight, the smiling ceramic angel and the murderer's hand-written note on his victim's skin: FAGS DIE. You look at all that, Kelley says, and you have to ask a question: "If you wanted to rob somebody, why go through all that?"

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