Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Trailside Killer of San Francisco

The First Trial

Carpenter insisted he was innocent and continued to do so throughout two trials.

His first trial was for the murders of Heather Scaggs and Ellen Hansen, and the attempted murder of Steve Haertle.  It started on October 11, 1983.  The judge seated one jury to decide his guilt and a second one to decide the penalty in the event of a conviction.  Along with the alternates, this made for a substantial body of people for the attorneys to address.

It took many weeks of voir dire before DA Art Danner could present his opening argument in May, which focused on eyewitnesses and ballistics evidence.  Carpenter's gun had been linked to each of the murders, and Steve Haertle's testimony identifying Carpenter as the attacker who shot him and killed his girlfriend was persuasive.  It was no surprise that after six weeks of testimony, the eight-woman, four-man jury deliberated for eight hours over the course of two and a half days to reach their verdict.  On July 6, 1984, David Carpenter was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. 

DA Art Danner
DA Art Danner

"The balding, bespectacled defendant had no visible reaction," reported the Syracuse Post-Standard.  He attorney shrugged it off, saying that Carpenter had expected to be convicted and had prepared for it.  He also described his client to the press as a "mental mess," admitting that he was a killer but resisting the idea that he should face the death penalty for it: His crimes had been impulsive, not planned, and he'd been unable to control himself.  Yet no amount of psychological testimony had convinced the jury that abusive parents were entirely responsible for this killer's development toward such cruelty.

The second jury found three special circumstances that warranted the death penalty: committing multiple murders, committing during a rape, and lying in wait.  Carpenter was to be given the death sentence via execution in San Quentin's gas chamber. 

But the court was not finished with him.  He had a second trial coming right up for the Marin County killings — though it would be delayed for several years by legal wrangling.  And this trial would have an unexpected and disheartening glitch.


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