Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Trailside Killer of San Francisco

Five More

The second trial opened in San Diego on January 5, 1988.  Deputy DA John Posey had a huge job ahead of him in his first death-penalty case, with more than sixty witnesses, but he'd long prepared for the task.  Carpenter's attorneys were public defenders Frank Cox and Steve Berlin.  Robert Graysmith attended this proceeding and offers a first-hand account.  Unlike the Los Angles trial, in which the defense had offered few witnesses, Carpenter's witness list this time numbered over thirty, and he himself would testify.

It took until May 10, in a trial that once again proved that Carpenter's gun was the one that shot the victims, and he was convicted of all five of those murders.  He'd offered carefully constructed alibis, but the prosecutors proved that his documentation had been altered or that he'd been mistaken about some of his dates.

For seven days, Carpenter was on the stand. Although he appeared calm and prepared, reading from his calendar and collection of receipts, he stuttered from time to time as he described his acquaintances from prison and his various liaisons with women.  He also detailed his activities during the time of each of the murders of which he was accused.  Still, he also showed his anger and his slippery and glib nature.

It was no surprised that after only seven hours, another jury also recommended the death sentence for him, which the judge accepted.

However, a few months later, the jury forewoman, Barbara Durham, revealed something that could have made a difference.  She told friends that she had been aware (or became aware during the trial) of Carpenter's convictions in Los Angeles in 1984 for the Santa Cruz murders.  She had concealed this fact during voir dire (or during the trial).  Judge Herbert Hoffman had to consider whether to call a mistrial and have Carpenter retried.  Since he thought the evidence had been strong, it was a difficult decision.

On February 21, 1989, Judge Hoffman ruled that while he believed that Carpenter was certainly guilty of the crimes, since a member of the jury had unlawfully referred to his prior conviction during discussions, he had to order a new trial.  He made no secret of the fact that he considered this a travesty of justice, especially because the trial had been costly.

In 1994, state prosecutors asked the California Supreme Court in San Francisco to overturn that decision, since the evidence for Carpenter's guilt was overwhelming.  However, the Deputy State Public Defender insisted that the jury had been contaminated and the trial had been essentially biased and unfair.

Justice Armand Arabian
Justice Armand Arabian

On March 6, 1995, the court refused to give David Carpenter a new trial.  Justice Armand Arabian stated that it's virtually impossible to keep secrets in such cases and he believed that the forewoman's knowledge had not unduly biased the jury.  Thus, they overturned Judge Hoffman's decision — probably without too much disappointment for him.

In 1997, the state Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for the Scaggs and Hansen murders, and on November 29, 1999, they also upheld Carpenter's death penalty from his second trial.  Six of the seven judges agreed that he'd had a fair trial for the five Marin County murders and had been sentenced properly. 

As of this writing, he remains on death row in San Quentin, awaiting appeals through the federal courts.  At age 76, he is currently the oldest inmate there.


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